Protesters picket NI 'gay cure' event

Protest About 50 people protest outside the conference

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About 50 supporters of Northern Ireland's gay community are picketing a conference which focuses on helping people turn away from homosexuality.

The protest is being held outside the event organised by the Core Issues Trust group at a Church of Ireland venue in Belfast.

Inside, about 15 people listened to Amercian speaker David Pickup who promotes "reparative therapy".

He claims he can encourage homosexual people to practise hetereosexuality.

The protestors object to his message. They claim the therapy can be harmful to people who go through it.

Core Issues is a Northern Ireland based group which, according to its website is a non-profit Christian initiative "seeking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression."

Topics up for discussion at Belvoir Church of Ireland in Belfast on Wednesday include how parents can help their children "avoid homosexuality" and a Christian and psycological perspecitve on overcoming obstacles to freedom from homosexuality.

Mr Pickup said people who came to him were "usually distressed".

"I don't cure anybody - The client always determines if there are root causes for homosexuality," he said.

"I don't force anybody or cure anybody - a client naturally spontaneously grows into his authentic heterosexual self."

John O'Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project, who was leading the protest, was invited into the conference.

"It is the same ridiculous comments we have been hearing for 30 years that gay people are gay because they have had an overbearing mother and an absent father and quite often that they are sexual abuse cases," he said.

"We are here to tell the people who are attending and the wider public that there is real therapy and real support here in Northern Ireland from a gay affirmative approach which will help people be the best person they can and also reinforce with them that being gayis not something to be ashamed of."

In a statement, the rector of Belvoir parish, Canon Tom Keightley, said the church premises were used, from time to time, by a range of groups, not all linked to the parish.

He said a decision on events was taken on a case to case basis.

"In agreeing to the request by this organisation for its event, I did so on the understanding that the organisation seeks only to work with those who want its help and that it is acceptable to allow the opportunity for open debate in this area of life in all its complexity," he said.

"The church itself is not involved with the running of the event or with the organisation, nor with the event's promotion."

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