LGBT campaigners have protested outside a conference on "same-sex attraction" run by a Christian group in Belfast.
The conference is being run by the True Freedom Trust (TFT) in a baptist church in south Belfast. TFT, which is a member of the Evangelical Alliance, describes itself as “a Christian ministry that offers pastoral support and biblical teaching on same-sex attractions”.
On Saturday, protestors led by members of the Rainbow Project held a demonstration outside the Windsor Baptist Church on Malone Avenue, where TFT’s ‘Pressing On’ conference on “same-sex attraction” was hosted.
Placards emblazoned with messages such as ‘Love needs no cure’, ‘Healthy lesbians, no cure needed’ and ‘Homophobia has a cure: education’ were held by protesters.
Rainbow Project director John O’Doherty said the TFT event was about “telling LGBT people there is something wrong with them”.
“Being LGBT is something that should be celebrated,” he said.
He added: “We will always protest events in Belfast that tell LGBT people they are not good enough.”
Conversion therapy or reparative therapy, which refers to treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity, has been widely condemned by mental health, counselling and psychotherapy bodies around the world as “unethical and harmful to the people who are subjected to these practices”,” Mr O’Doherty said.
TFT director Stuart Parker told The Irish Times the conference would include "worship time" and "talks from the Bible" such as on Hebrews 12, and denied it was advocating "conversion therapy".
“It’s about encouraging Christians, particularly those with same-sex attractions, just to keep going in the Christian life,” he said.
“So we are not talking about changing anyone’s sexual orientation or anything like that.
“It’s particularly for people who hold to an orthodox position on sexual orientation, what the Bible says about it, and who have chosen themselves to maybe live a celibate life and encourage them in that.”
He said he was aware of the criticisms of conversion therapy but leaves it to mental health organisations “to do the ethical policing”.
When asked if he thought conversion therapy was damaging Mr Parker said he wasn’t a researcher and not “qualified to say”.
Danielle Roberts from Here NI, which supports lesbian and bisexual women and their families, said "conversion therapy and reparative therapy feeds into the idea that there is something inherently wrong with being LGBT and is something that can be fixed".
“Conferences like today mean that the stigma continues,” she said.
Next door to Windsor Baptist Church, at the Belfast Spiritualist Church, Brian Lynch said he supported the protesters and was unhappy about the TFT event being held.
“It is totally offensive to us,” he said.
Another spiritualist church member Petra Husbands described the TFT event as "outdated" and said she was "amazed people have to turn up to protest in this day and age".
“We just accept people as people are,” she said.