Anti-gay cure group to protest outside Christian convention

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Gay campaigners are to protest outside a gay cure conference in Northern Ireland this weekend.

Christian group Core Issues is holding a conference with the Rev Mario Bergner, who claims to have been turned away from homosexuality by God.

Chicago-based Rev Bergner claims he can cure gays of homosexuality and that Jesus saved him when he was in hospital with symptoms of AIDS at the age of 23.

He said that after “choosing” Jesus, he tested negative for HIV and is now married to a woman.

The conference will be held at Ballynahinch Baptist Church in County Down between Friday and Sunday. According to the brochure, it will include worship, discussions and prayer readings.

A protest has been organised by the Stop Conversion Therapy Taskforce (SCOTT) and Queer Youth Network on Friday evening.

Gay journalist Patrick Strudwick, who set up SCOTT after going undercover to interview ex-gay therapists, told he hoped 200 people would turn up to the protest.

Rather than criticising the therapists, he said, the aim was to tell gay visitors to the conference that they do not need to try to change their sexual orientation.

Mr Strudwick said: “It will be a peaceful, non-confrontative protest. It is aimed at gay people who are there for treatment – to tell them that there are other ways and that they don’t have to change.”

He added: “We also want to to bring awareness to the hate-fuelled, money-making agenda of these deeply homophobic, self-hating conversion therapists.

“They are fascistic fundamentalists who ruin lives and make money while doing so. Our protest will be peaceful, dignified and non-confrontational. We bring love. They offer hate.”

The premise of gay conversion therapy is that gay people can be turned straight and that homosexuality is often caused by a lack of a father figure or sexual abuse as a child. In some cases, NHS funding pays for the treatment.

Critics say it does not work and can lead to severe mental health problems. Research published last year found one in six therapists and psychiatrists had tried to turn a gay person straight.

Last April, more than 100 people protested outside a gay cure conference in London.

The event, organised by evangelical Christian group Anglican Mainstream and CARE, was billed as having “a special focus on how religious professionals and friends/relatives can respond biblically and pastorally to those struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction”.