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Mon 1 March 2021

A speaker at the Marriage, Sex, Culture Group’s January conference – which promotes conversion therapy – has links to the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Sian Norris reports

The BBC is run by “left-wing Marxist Islamists”. Donald Trump’s 6 January speech took place while the storming of the US Capitol was happening, not before. The “LGBT agenda doesn’t make any sense”. And what about George Soros? 

That’s just a taster of the conspiracy theories and homophobic ideology on display at the Marriage, Sex, Culture Group’s January conference – a fringe religious-right organisation that aims to “defend traditional values” and fight back against “cultural Marxism”, an anti-Semitic term.

The conference was attended by around 50 people on Zoom, from the UK and US. 

Speaking at the event was Reverend Lynda Rose, who convenes the UK’s Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group – a non-aligned parliamentary research group chaired by Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. This is not Donaldson’s only link to Rose – he hosted the launch of Parent Power, an anti-sex education campaigning organisation set up by Voice for Justice UK, of which Rose is a director. 

The Group provides briefings on subjects ranging from abortion rights and assisted dying to relationships and sex education (RSE). As with any other parliamentary research group, it also drafts questions to be raised in Parliament across these issues. 

During the conference, Rose claimed that RSE was “sexualising and indoctrinating children” into “lifestyles” they’re too young “to understand” – although one could argue that our culture’s obsessive focus on heterosexual marriage in everything from fairy tales to films to Royal Wedding news is also a “lifestyle”.

She accused the Government and the media of a “drive to destroy the structure of family” and declared that there is a “battle of light and darkness going on”. 


Promoting ‘Conversion Therapy

Rose appeared alongside advocates and providers of conversion therapy – a practice which remains legal in the UK, although there are plans to ban it. It is described by the United Nations as inflicting “severe pain and suffering on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender-diverse (LGBT) persons, often resulting in long-lasting psychological and physical damage” and as an “egregious violation of rights to bodily autonomy, health, and free expression of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity”. 

The LGBTIQ rights organisation Stonewall defines conversion therapy as “any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity. It is based on an assumption that being lesbian, gay, bi or trans is a mental illness that can be ‘cured’. These therapies are both unethical and harmful.”

The NHS, in a memorandum of understanding, has written that conversion therapy is “dangerous”. 

The idea that being LGBTIQ is a form of mental ill health was reflected in the discussion led by Core Issues Trust UK’s Michael Davidson. He rejects the term conversion therapy and described treating so-called “unwanted same sex attraction” as similar to treating an “addiction” – a deeply offensive notion that equates being LGBTIQ with having an illness. He explained to the conference how his programme worked on behaviours such as “meeting people and internet pornography” before tackling “underlying emotional issues” of which “homosexuality is a symptom”.

This ignores how being LGBTIQ is not a symptom of any kind of illness or emotional issue – any more than heterosexuality or any other sexuality would be.  

Core Issues Trust UK describes itself as a “Christian ministry supporting men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference” and offers “sexual attraction fluidity exploration in therapy”. The organisation recently had its bank account suspended (it is now suing Barclays Bank, claiming that it has violated the organisation’s human rights).

Davidson co-opted the language of gay liberation and social justice to explain how his organisation “advocates for rights and freedoms for people to identify as they choose”. Using language commonly associated with social justice causes – “rights”, “freedoms”, “identity” – is a common tactic of anti-rights movements. 

It seeks to distract from the reality of conversion therapy which the UN, the NHS and other expert bodies agree causes harm and distress to LGBTIQ people.

Davidson claimed that there is a “must stay gay culture” in the West, ignoring how LGBTIQ people still face violent, even deadly, discrimination and prejudice in the UK and around the world. He went on to make the frankly surreal statement that “the word gay is being normalised, even in the dictionary”, which undermines the very real experiences of homophobia and transphobia of LGBTIQ people today. 


Pro-Trump Conspiracies

Speakers at the conference aired a range of conspiracy theories, often with a focus on Trump’s election and the storming of the US Capitol last month.

Reverend Lynda Rose described the attack as “orchestrated and used as a club to smash Christian perspectives”. Again, it is concerning that someone with close ties to a sitting MP has links to far-right conspiracies and pro-conversion therapy groups. 

Leading the pro-Trump charge was Sidney Cordle, of the political party Christian People’s Alliance. The party gained some media attention in 2019 when it challenged Labour MP Stella Creasy’s parliamentary seat in Walthamstow over her pro-choice policies.

Cordle repeated a baseless conspiracy theory claiming that Trump’s speech on 6 January started an hour later than it did and that his supporters were not responsible for the violence. There is no evidence for this claim. 

Another speaker was former BBC journalist Robin Aitken MBE, who claimed that the mainstream media “promotes progressive liberal philosophy which is antithetic to Christian morality” and that “free speech is heavily constrained by liberal voices”.

Aitken went on to say that secularists were wrong to think that religious influence was waning, citing the Islamic faith as an example of a robust religious community. However, he also said that Islam’s influence was a “negative example”. 


The Ugliness Beneath the Mask

Declaring Islam to be a “negative example” wasn’t the only time the mask of respectability and Christian charity dropped to reveal racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic attitudes never far from the surface. 

Cordle at one point ranted against the “LGBT agenda”, which he said “made no sense as two men and two women can’t make a child” and claimed that the “agenda” is “desperate to try and destroy the family”.

Dr Chan Abraham, of Leadership International, condemned the BBC as “left-wing Marxist Islamists” – a paradoxical statement if anything. 

As is always the case in these circles, there was at least one mention of George Soros – during a talk from Andrew Symes of Anglican Mainstream. The billionaire philanthropist has become a hate figure on the far-right and is blamed for everything from the Remain campaign to inclusive RSE to support for LGBTIQ rights. 

One woman questioned why those in the church advocating against conversion therapy – such as Christian LGBTIQ activist Jayne Ozanne – weren’t being denounced as “heretics”. 

It is important to understand that groups such as Marriage, Sex, Culture are fringe – although Rose’s links to Parliament reveal at least one mainstream political connection. At times, sitting in on the event felt like being ranted at by the final gasps of a dying outrage.

However, as many on the right stoke up a ‘culture war’ that focuses obsessively on a false notion that liberal progressive forces are intent on silencing so-called traditional voices, as well as manufactured anxieties against so-called “gender ideology” and “wokeness”, it is useful to understand what issues and conspiracy theories the extremist edges of the religious-right are organising around. 

And as plans to ban conversion therapy continue to be debated, an insight into how the movement is co-opting the language of social justice to promote a false idea that a liberal progressive society pushes people to be gay demonstrates just how urgently action should be taken to end a practice the UN equates to torture. 

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP declined to respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.

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