Sunday, 26 April 2009

'Gay cure' protest - A report

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 seemed from my end, 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.

Although members of the Queer Youth Alliance and of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, Schools OUT and LGBT History Month Co-Chair Tony Fenwick, IDAHO's UK coordinator Derek Lennard, a National Union of Teachers LGBT Working Party member, an Amnesty International representative, and a member of the Green Party were indeed present.

The NUS LGBT Conference that was taking place at the same time in Nottingham also adopted an emergency motion condemning the conference.

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 joined the organisation to seek help, 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.

James Hayward, a teacher, later said after the protest: "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' conference, 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.

Pictures can be found here.

5 comments:

  1. Just because people now consider homosexuality normal doesn't mean it is. And yes I believe those people are the same as any other and desearve our love and respect, but also need our helped,as we all know their principles go against nature and LOVE Himself.

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  2. Thank you for your comment, Philipe. I am afraid you are not providing any argument in support of your opinion. And they could very easily be turned on their heads. For example: “Just because some people consider homosexuality not to be normal doesn't mean it is.” What is normal anyway? If by “normal” you mean that which the majority does, then, yes, you are right. It’s not normal, but then again, I don’t think there is anything normal about human sexuality or humanity in general.

    If by it you mean, “mentally or physically sound”, then I will refer you to all major medical organisations in the UK, the US and many other country, that will tell you that homosexuality is indeed not a disease.

    Yes, people with same-sex attraction do deserve love and respect but your definition of those seems rather erroneous if it means that they have to be moulded to your vision of things. Where is the respect in this? You may think that “their principles”, as you call them, go against the Bible (and that would imply that for some reason, they have to follow what the Bible says) but they certainly don’t go against nature. There are many incidences of homosexuality within nature and one could argue that man has, in many way, broken away from nature.

    Going back to the Bible, the main references to homosexuality take place in Leviticus. Serious exegetes agree that the term “abomination” should be understood as meaning “outside of the religious rules”. In any case, if rules in Leviticus are so important, who do people so conveniently pick and choose the ones they want to follow and the ones they don’t?

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  3. Hey Zefrog,

    Well done again for arranging this, an excellent job!

    I was (and still am actually) curious about the legislation/powers the Police used in order to limit the protest to 2 hours. But you mention in your report that the Police indicated that the protest was located in the exclusion zone around Parliament so I wondered if that was the reason?

    Jojomu

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  4. Thanks, Jojomu.

    People who want to demonstrate within the exclusion zone need to make an application with the police. In my application, I chose 2hrs as the length for the protest.

    here is an article in Wikipedia that should explain things more.

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  5. Thank you, M. Frog, for organizing this response to these fanatics.

    I was moved to hear the story of the chap who had made a genuine effort to change his way of life and conform to the expectations of his peers. If people freely wish to change how they live -- for whatever reason -- then they have a right to do that so long as they do not harm others. However, by setting him up with a wife who was deceived about his past and would not have accepted him had she known, JONAH failed them both. Of course, there are men who feel same-sex attraction and yet choose to form a partnership with women, and so long as they both know the commitment they are making, I cannot find anything wrong, but these people against whom you were protesting seek not only to "change", but also to hide and to deceive, and this cannot be right.

    Well done.

    I hope that the nature of the demonstration was such to give some people cause for thought, whether they were attending this abominable conference, or whether they have heard about it through the media.

    On another note, I should not be discouraged that a necessarily hastily-organized event could not receive the attention of larger organizations. Autonomy and decentralized action and expression are at east as vauabe as what may seem ike droning unanimity. Perhaps now that the demonstration has been successful, they will be able to make note of their support.

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