Some still call homosexuality an illness - as a 'gay cure' advert proved this week. Liam O'Brien hears from the self-appointed healers
David Pickup, a "reparative therapist" from California, runs some slides off a projector. He shows a happy, portly, gay couple in a posed photo. "On the outside they might smile, but inside they are numb or dead. Gays that are happy are gays who don't know about themselves," he says.
A series of images appears on the wall: a small child crying in a dark corner, someone self-harming with a kitchen knife, a man lying dead in a coffin. This is how gay people come to him, apparently, when they see him for counselling in Los Angeles. These are the broken people God told David Pickup he must repair.
David Pickup, who runs therapy sessions to turn gay men into heterosexuals, was speaking at an event in London in June last year. It was held at the Christian Legal Centre just off Bond Street, and was organised by Core Issues, whose adverts were banned from London buses this week. The adverts, which read "Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!", barely register as offensive in comparison with the real horror of gay-to-straight therapy.
The event is largely for the 30 Christian mentors and church members in attendance, though I'm posing as a young man having difficulty dealing with his sexuality. On entering, Dr Lisa Nolland riffles through my bag. A member of the dubiously named Anglican Mainstream, she became a footnote in the history of internet jest in 2010 when she claimed that Cheltenham's innocuous Greenbelt Festival was responsible for the "gayification" of society.
Mr Pickup himself used to be gay, or, rather, he used to be homosexual. He differentiates the two, and believes that to be gay is to act on homosexual impulses and adopt the lifestyle of a gay man. His central idea is that: "Gay identity is a construct, but it's very real to the person who has constructed it, in that it's based on unfulfilled needs and trauma." Despite his own experiences, his view of what being gay entails is narrow. Gays are promiscuous ("They don't get a lot of love, they get a lot of sex"), and are invariably the victims either of sexual abuse or of profound psychological damage. He admits that clients often leave his care just as depressed as when they arrive, but there's no question that he believes wholeheartedly in what he preaches. If it turns out that there is a gay gene, then he would acknowledge the harm he had caused.
Perhaps these opinions aren't extreme enough for those in attendance. "I can see these people are broken, but I feel such anger towards them. I just want to hit them," one man bursts out. Mr Pickup calms him: "Gay militants are grooming our children on an industrial scale. If a gay teacher tries to impose their beliefs on your child, do not hit them. Take out your sword of righteous anger, your biblical sword. Take out your sword of compassion, because it cuts clean." I have to stifle a laugh.
Jacob Wilson, 25, and Peterson Toscano, 47, are unable to joke about …