Northern Ireland

Protest at 'gay conversion therapy' film at Belfast church

A couple holds hands wrapped in a rainbow flag Image copyright AFP/Getty

A protest has been held at a church over the screening of a film that demonstrators say promotes "gay conversion therapy".

About 40 protesters gathered ahead of Thursday's screening of 'Once Gay - Matthew and Friends' at Townsend Presbyterian Church in west Belfast.

The Presbyterian Church said it was clear no therapy "should be undertaken against a person's will".

The Green Party's Malachai O'Hara said it promoted a "damaging message".

The screening was organised by the Christian Group, Core Issues Trust.

The head of the organisation, Mike Davidson, said his organisation does not offer "gay conversion therapy", but rather "standard psychotherapeutic and counselling approaches that explores sexual fluidity in [individual's] lives".

Image caption Mike Davidson said the film did not promote "therapy" aimed at changing gay people's sexuality

"Some people, for whatever reason, are just not happy with [being gay] and want to move away from it," Mr Davidson told BBC News NI.

"Clearly it is the responsibility of anyone working in this area to make sure that they are there of their own accord.

"They are not sent there, they are not there under any kind of duress."

'Our lives need no cure'

Malachai O'Hara said his efforts to lobby the church and have the screening cancelled had been unsuccessful.

"Thankfully, all major UK counselling and psychotherapy organisations alongside NHS England and Scotland have been emphatic in their opposition to the dangerous and harmful practice of conversion therapy," he said.

"My particular concern is that by agreeing to show this film, Townsend Church are offering tacit support to the idea that being gay can be prayed away.

"This is a dangerous and damaging message particularly for the LGBT people that may be part of that congregation.

"It's also a ridiculous message - one as silly as the notion that being heterosexual can be prayed away."

Image caption Protesters gathered outside the church on Thursday night

'Reject homophobia'

A spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said: "From the outset as a church, we again affirm that all people are loved, valued and cherished by God and we continue to reject homophobia in all its forms.

"The church recognises that 'conversion therapy' is both an emotive term and is defined differently by different people.

"However, two things are very clear. Firstly, no 'therapy' of any kind should be undertaken against a person's will.

"Secondly, where a person chooses to seek help from a counsellor, then it is legitimate for such help to be provided."

Legal advice

In July 2018, the UK government announced plans to ban "gay conversion therapies" as part of plans to improve the lives of gay and transgender people.

It followed a national survey of 108,000 members of the LGBT community, which found 2% had undergone the practice with another 5% having been offered it.

At the time, Mr Davidson said he would seek legal advice over the planned ban.

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