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Just days after Rishi Sunak reportedly dropped plans to introduce a conversion therapy ban, Byline Times can reveal that a project of a charity registered in Northern Ireland held a conference in Poland where delegates heard about conversion therapy techniques, how fundamentalist Christian leaders met with British MPs and lords to convince them to fight against conversion therapy bans, and asked whether castration would get rid of “LGBT freaks”.
Organised by the International Foundation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice (IFTCC) – a London-based company that says it is a “home for the once-gay” – the event welcomed Polish psychologists, American paediatricians, Malaysian religious leaders, Slovakian politicians, Norwegian pornography opponents, self-described British “ex-gays”, and German doctors.
Held in a hotel on the outskirts of Warsaw, the conference attracted more than 220 participants from 34 countries from 27 to 29 October, where 23 speakers conducted 37 sessions.
The IFTCC is a project of the Core Issues Trust, which is registered with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, and describes itself as providing support for “those leaving LGBT identities, behaviours, attractions and life choices”.
A cross-border investigation by Byline Times, German newspaper Die Tageszeitung, and independent Russian exiled investigative media outlet iStories Media, has discovered the public face of the IFTCC – which purports to “promote a caring, non-judgemental training environment” for people seeking support about sexuality issues – is markedly different from much of the pseudoscientific and harmful rhetoric discussed at the conference.
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At first glance, the IFTCC event appeared to be like any typical conference. Delegates sipped filter coffee in between sessions and made small talk about the Polish weather. But listening to the presentations – such as one by an American university professor who explained how a selection of techniques and the power of the Holy Spirit could “break down the walls of the same-sex attraction house” – and it was clear that this conference was anything but normal.
During a Q&A conversation, in which an attendee asked what can be done about the “toxic LGBT ideology”, Dr Laura Haynes, USA Country representative for the IFTCC and licensed psychologist, explained how she had seen even “liberal parents” fighting against this supposed ideology. She said this was happening because, when their child comes home saying they are gay, these liberal parents are saying they are experiencing “supernatural evil”.
“Some have said this has led them to believe there might be supernatural good, there might be a god,” she told the international audience. “Sometimes even the devil does God’s will.”
For Fiona Wyatt – an active supporter of the Core Issues Trust who co-hosted the organisations’ ‘The Pilgrim’s Way – The Journey’ discipleship series with her husband Simon Wyatt, a director of the Core Issues Trust – the conference was an ideal opportunity to share the challenges she faced for standing against the ‘LGBTQ agenda’.
Bethel Christian Assembly, the church led by Simon Wyatt, had its lease terminated, allegedly due to its anti-gay beliefs being discovered. When Fiona Wyatt heard about rainbow-coloured zebra crossings being painted in her local area, she sent an email to church members giving them a template of how to complain to the council. Once the caretaker found this email and shared its contents, the lease was terminated.
Fiona explained how she wanted to “get some research about what’s really happening, what’s really true. These LGBT freaks – do we have them castrated?” she laughed. “What do we do? We need to know.”
While many of the conference sessions were recorded and released to supporters online, violent language like this was not found in the publicly available videos.
A number of attendees said they deeply value the ability to be among friends and share their true thoughts and feelings about LGBT people without censorship at the three-day event.
A number of international human rights organisations state that conversion practices can be tantamount to torture. According to a statement on conversion therapy by the Independent Forensic Expert Group – an organisation established by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims – these practices “may amount to torture depending on the circumstances, namely the severity of physical and mental pain and suffering inflicted”.
Both the Core Issues Trust and IFTCC say they do not endorse, practice or encourage conversion therapy.
‘Once Gay – Not Anymore’
Members of X-Out-Loud, a group which describes themselves as ex-gay, provided practical support throughout the conference, doing everything from helping to staff the pop-up book shop to bringing late delegates into sessions.
Wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “once gay – not anymore” in rainbow colours, these mainly younger people were showcased as living proof that it is possible to overcome homosexuality through ‘healing from God’.
As a project of the Core Issues Trust, X-Out-Loud members “share their testimonies of leaving LGBT identities or lifestyles, following a personal encounter with Jesus”. During the latest Church of England Synod in November, several X-Out-Loud members gathered in front of The Church House, home of the headquarters of the Church of England, to protest against same-sex blessings.
From books such as X-Out-Loud: Emerging Ex-LGBT Voices – which features 44 testimonies from people in 22 countries who report having left LGBT identities – to a film called Once Gay – Matthew and Friends, in which X-Out-Loud member Matthew Grech discusses what he sees as the “must-stay-gay” culture; the project is active online and across social media.
According to a report published by US non-profit Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, X-Out-Loud “co-opts and warps the language of the LGBTQ+ rights movement for its own ends”.
All major counselling and psychotherapy bodies in the UK – including the NHS and British Psychological Society – view conversion therapy as a harmful practice and have signed a Memorandum of Understanding reflecting their “commitment to ending the practice of ‘conversion therapy’ in the UK”.
London may be the base for many organisations involved with the IFTCC conference, but prominent evangelical Christian organisations are working to spread their influence far from the capital city.
The not-for-profit advocacy group Christian Concern is led by chief executive Andrea Williams, who spoke at length during two sessions at the conference on a range of topics from how abortion in the UK is a “legalised holocaust” to the strategies of fighting against anti-discrimination changes across the world.
“One of my great heroines is Shirley Richards in Jamaica, who has been resisting the decriminalisation of buggery laws in her nation,” Williams said at the conference. “Because decriminalisation goes to the redefining of words and institutions. Anti-discrimination and equal rights mean that, unless you comply with this new agenda, you will be silenced – you will be criminalised.”
According to Companies House filings, Williams was a director of the Core Issues Trust from October 2015 until May 2019.
On 12 April this year, the Christian Concern account on X (formerly Twitter) posted that Williams had travelled to the British Virgin Islands, South Africa and South Korea to “bolster Christians seeking to stand firm in the face of a different kingdom – of LGBT ideology”.
The Christian Legal Centre, part of Christian Concern, is supporting Matthew Grech, an X-Out-Loud member and self-proclaimed ex-gay, as he faces charges of advertising conversion practices in Malta, a country where conversion therapy is outlawed.
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In the UK, Williams and Christian Concern have been active in the successful attempt to stop a conversion therapy ban bill to pass into law.
In an email to Christian Concern supporters, seen by Byline Times, Andrea Williams said one part of the “hard, multi-faceted work” the organisation carried out to stop the ban was meeting MPs and Lords face-to-face to help them understand that a ban would be harmful and not needed. “By God’s grace, we have made remarkable progress in this campaign,” she wrote.
During one of her sessions at the conference, Williams said that while pro-gay activists say they want homosexuality to be decriminalised across the world, every nation is permitted to make its own criminal laws.
Boosted by the successful campaign to stop conversion therapy being banned in the UK, Williams is now setting out a strategy that, if successful, would roll-back decades of hard-won human rights legislation, including same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws.
“Together, we are building a global response by building a global training ground, we’re building a global presence, we’re going to have global funding – absolutely nothing is going to stop us,” Williams said.
Mike Davidson, IFTCC chairman, Core Issues Trust CEO and X-Out-Loud Europe co-director, told Byline Times: “The IFTCC’s International Declaration on ‘Conversion Therapy’ and Therapeutic Choice reflects the IFTCC’s understanding on the research literature relating to sexual ‘orientation’ and gender incongruence. Our policy documents reflect the ethical statements and practice guidelines we encourage in those associating with us.”
Instead of answering any of this newspaper’s questions, Davidson referred it to the IFTCC website.
Dr Laura Haynes, Fiona Wyatt and Andrea Williams did not respond to a request for comment.
This investigation was developed with the support of Journalismfund Europe