Students, lecturers and gay rights campaigners have condemned a decision by an Oxford University College to host a conference by a controversial Christian group that says it can 'cure' homosexuals
. Christian Concern is set to host a five day event, known as the 'Wilberforce Academy', at Exeter College during the break for Easter next month.
The case came to light following a letter from a student to the rector of Exeter College in which he cited articles written by the group’s chief executive.
The third year student said that Andrea Minichiello Williams had previously said that homosexuality is a 'sin' and is a vocal supporter of 'corrective therapy' treatment for gay couples.
The decision to host the meeting has been met with fierce criticism and has led to calls that the prestigious college withdraw its involvement.
Among the opponents are leading gay rights group Stonewall, which has accused Christian Concern of spreading 'homophobic' messages and taking freedom of speech too far.
Sam Dick, head of policy at Stonewall said: 'Gay students and many Christians will be deeply offended to see this group given a platform at Exeter College.'
The University has said it was not 'viable' to cancel the conference, but admitted was reviewing its policy regarding bookings from outside groups in light of the opposition.
Dr Andrew Hodges, a fellow at Wadham College and a gay rights activist said: 'It is possible that the college concerned has regarded this booking as a purely commercial question for their conference business.
'However, in practice any organisation gains credibility and kudos from having a meeting in an Oxford college. Students are quite right to draw attention to this fact, even if the conference does not directly involve the life of the university population.
'Speaking purely personally, I am amazed to read that the college has agreed to this particular event.
Referring to the decision to allow the group to use the college, the Rector of Exeter College Frances Cairncross said: 'Given Exeter College’s strong record in protecting the rights and dignity of its gay and lesbian members, I am especially dismayed that we should come under attack.
'The college and its governing body have always worked hard to ensure that its members of all sexual orientations felt safe here and secure from any hostility.
'Given our contractual situation the governing body believes that cancelling the conference booking is not a viable option. However, we are reviewing the basis on which we take bookings for conferences in future.'
Christian Concern and its sister organisation the Christian Legal Centre have been involved in a number of high profile campaigns against abortion and sexual abstinence regulations since they were founded in 2004.
In a recent article on her group’s website Ms Williams wrote: 'Homosexual rights campaigners get very angry with the idea of homosexual practice as sin, and very angry at the idea of reparative therapy - which rests on the idea that people can change if they want to.'
She also said that 'therapy should remain freely available for those who wish to change their homosexual behaviour.'
Ms Williams responded to allegations that the conference may breach the College’s ethics policy, by saying: 'We do not seek to discriminate against anyone, on the contrary, the message in the Bible is one of welcome for all people, but the Bible also makes clear statements on how we should live. The Bible says clearly that marriage is between a man and a woman.'