Representatives from the Green Party in Northern Ireland joined a protest with local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) groups against a controversial conference taking place in Belfast today.
The event, staged at the Belvoir Church of Ireland in Belfast, addressed reparative approaches to sexuality and sexual identity and has been strongly criticised by gay rights campaigners.
The term ‘reparative therapy’ refers to psychotherapy which claims to eliminate homosexual desires and is used by people who do not think homosexuality is one variation within human sexual orientation but rather still believe homosexuality is a mental disorder.
Green Party Leader Steven Agnew MLA said: “The British Medical Association does not recognise homosexuality as a mental illness and to call it such is misleading and dangerous. I would defend people’s right to religious expression, as much as I would defend anyone’s right to a private life, however claims of reparative therapy have no basis in evidence and have been rejected by medical experts.”
South Belfast Green Party spokesperson Clare Bailey highlighted the dangers involved in promoting conversion theories, stating: “There is a serious risk that reparative teachings actually do harm and promote a culture of intolerance, and a misunderstanding on the nature of homosexuality and LGBT relationships.
“Homophobia in Northern Ireland needs to be taken extremely seriously and arguments that imply that homosexuality is a either a lifestyle choice or mental illness will always be exploited as a means for demonizing and persecuting gay men and women.
“As we try to encourage an environment of respect and understanding, the message that someone can be cured of, or avoid, homosexual feelings is detrimental – particularly for those young people who are coming out and trying to gain acceptance from friends and family.”
Stephen Donnan of the LGBT Greens also added: “I am immensely proud that the LGBT community, including the LGBT Greens, have rallied so effectively to promote a peaceful, balanced counter argument and I hope than any young people in attendance today are offered the support they need, free from judgment or pressure to conform to a certain lifestyle.”