100 Protest Religious 'Gay Cure' Conference in London
A celebrity, three drag queens and about 100 people of mixed background, ages, race, gender, beliefs, ability and sexual orientation. This could sound like the ideal premise for a glamourous party.
Why Jimmy Somerville and the Sisters of the Perpetual Indulgence found themselves gathered together on a sunny London pavement on Saturday was however for altogether more serious reasons.
Two religious groups (Anglican Mainstream and CARE) had come together to organise a two-day conference entitled Sex and the City, Redeeming Sex Today.
The key contributors to the event were controversial American 'psychiatrists' Joseph Nicolosi and Jeffrey Satinover, and Doctor (of law) Arthur Goldberg, co-director of JONAH and president of PATH. All three have built a career on the premise that gay people can be turned straight if they want it hard enough.
Talks at the conference included 'Myths we live by: The gay gene, once-gay-always-gay, gay sex is just like straight sex' by Jeffrey Satinover, 'The psychological, cultural & political agenda of LGBT activism: Past, present & future' by Jeffrey Satinover, 'The Scriptures and sex' by Gordon Wenham and 'Mentoring the sexually broken' by Arthur Goldberg. While these were taking place, Joseph Nicolosi was involved in some mysterious "sessions" in a different room throughout the day.
The Friday evening also featured a "Social Time, Guest Panel & Question Box" (people are asked to leave questions in a box for the panel) which was "followed by Special Interest Groups" ("It [was] hoped that Special Interest Groups [would] include those affected by SSA [Same-Sex Attraction], spouses, parents, family members and friends, counsellors, therapists, coaches, etc, those focussed on the political agenda plus any others deemed appropriate").
A few weeks ago, the Welcome Trust published the results of some research showing that a significant minority of psychiatrists and therapists are still attempting to help LGB clients become heterosexual despite a lack of evidence that such treatments are beneficial or even safe.
While the ex-gay movement is quite visible in US, it came as a shock to see that this is happening in the UK. This despite the fact that all major medical associations in the US and the UK, have been clearly stating for at least two decades that homosexuality is not a disease and that it can therefore not be cured.
On hearing of the conference, on the Wednesday before, I decided it should not go unchallenged and I started organising my first protest.
I set up a Facebook group and started to email a few activists I know. I registered the protest with the police who were quite understanding since the as-yet uncertain venue (it had been kept secret by the organisers) was located in the exclusion zone around Parliament.
Soon, the numbers grew and, by the time of the protest, over 500 people had pledged their support to our action on the Facebook event page, which was crucial to the success of the protest.
Established campaigning groups, though alerted of the protest, were disappointingly unresponsive and, it seems, reluctant to get involved, apart from very few notable exceptions. Perhaps this was due to the number of LGBT conferences that were taking place over the week-end.
The day finally arrived and people slowly started to gather across the street from the entrance to the building which was guarded by a handful of bouncers.
The arrival of three Sisters of the Perpetual Indulgence was feted with cheers from the protesters. There mischievous antics throughout the afternoon greatly added to the good-natured and festive atmosphere of the event.
This was, I think, an important element of the protest. While we were taking a stand against the so-called psychiatrists, I could not forget the fact that there were also gay people inside that building. People like us who were suffering and, I believe, being exploited. Sending them a positive and fun image of the community, contradicting what they no-doubt had been led to believe, was an added and significant benefit of our action.
After a while people started to come out of the building and offering drinks and nibbles started to engage with some of the protesters. Among those people was Arthur Goldberg who, rather illogically, claimed the protest denied him the right to hold the conference. The preferred argument expressed by the members of conference went along the lines of ‘if people want to change, they should have the freedom to do so.’
Later on, a lonely voice silenced all the others. It was that of a Jewish man in his mid-thirties. He told the crowd of his experience with JONAH (Goldberg's ex-gay 'ministry').
Having join the organisation to seek helped, he found himself forced into a marriage which produced three children. When this man's wife found out about his past, she left him, taking the children with her.
Having requested a meeting with Goldberg, which was granted to him, he went to tell him how he had "ruined" his life. The meeting was very short and the man quickly left under the applause of the protesters.
After this sobering episode, the mood slowly regained its festive turn and soon people started chanting and singing.
The protest dispersed without incident at 3pm.
A protester, who is a teacher, later said: "I really worry about the effect conferences and beliefs like these have on vulnerable LGBT youths. It's absolutely necessary to let these groups know their ridiculous ideas are totally unacceptable."
Personally, I am extremely pleased with how the protest went and, to be honest, still a bit stunned. It is terribly heartening that so many people have taken the time to take part in this and show those people that they can not just say and do what they want. That we are here, happy with who we are and more importantly vigilant and not willing to be mistreated any longer.
That some people are feeling uncomfortable about their sexuality is undeniable (there is a much higher rate of mental health issues within the LGBT community (particularly young makes) than in the wider community).
The reason for this is however clearly to be found in the hateful rhetoric of people like Joseph Nicolosi and those who support them. Rather than trying to push people to pursue the unattainable dream of becoming straight, would it not be better to exert a little Christian charity and be more welcoming and supportive of who they are, helping them accept who they are?
Thankfully, reputable mental health professionals are finally raising to the challenge and on the week-end marking International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), the first ever UK conference devoted exclusively to the mental health of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and other sexual minorities.
IDAHO's date commemorates the 17 May 1990, the day the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its International Classification of Diseases.
'The Working with Gender and Sexual Minorities', which will take place in London, is jointly presented by the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), the national umbrella organisation of psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors, and Pink Therapy, the largest specialist organisation working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients.
This article was also posted on my blog: www.zefrog.eu