A large group of queer students gathered on Eastern Avenue around 1pm today to protest a talk organised by the University of Sydney Union Catholic Society, titled “Men + Women = Made for each other?”.
Around 60 students with several megaphones, rainbow flags, and a trombone, drowned out large portions of the Catholic Society event with chants of “queer pride saves lives” and “bigots are not welcome here”, in a protest organised by the SRC’s Queer Action Collective (QuAC).
The protest followed several complaints made to the USU and the Vice-Chancellor’s office expressing concerns about speaker James Parker’s association with Journey into Manhood, a gay conversion therapy program.
In addition to the chanting and trombone, the event was also interrupted by a microphone failure one heckler characterised as an “act of God”. It is unclear whether the microphone failure was caused by a deliberate attempt to tamper with the power supply to the speakers.
The Catholic Society attempted to proceed with the event despite the ruckus. At one point Parker walked outside with a handmade sign that read “God Loves Gays” in an unsuccessful attempt to placate the protesters.
Speaker is James Parker and he has just stuck a sign on his podium that says "God Loves Gays" pic.twitter.com/mK9azG0wta
— Georgia Kriz (@georgiakriz) May 4, 2016
Parker also denied being an advocate of conversion therapy, attributing his conversion to “regular therapy”. He described his previous homosexuality as the result of a fundamental opposition to men he developed in utero, which he claims to have overcome through a combination of therapy and faith.
“Once I found deep resolution within myself, my voice began to drop, and my walk began to change,” he said to the gathered crowd. “I began to see women.”
Queer students present at the event expressed concerns about Parker’s message. Queer Officer Evan Jones said he felt Parker was “misleading people” by claiming to be opposed to conversion therapy.
“They don’t call it conversion therapy, but it blatantly is,” Jones said.
Will Edwards, a gay student who attended the talk, also described Parker’s ideas as harmful. “I came here expecting his speech to be a lot less hurtful than I actually found it. But I was shocked by what he was saying, absolutely shocked. Implying that his ‘high voice and mincing walk’ were things he had to be cured of, and implying that being gay was a result of sexual abuse – that gayness is such an awful thing that it can only be caused by awful circumstances – is the very essence of homophobia.”
However, Catholic Society President Francis Tamer said he thought “the event went really well”.
He maintained that those opposed had a right to protest, but said he would “also like to make clear that anyone who listened would have found that [Parker] was not in favour of the things that people thought he was in favour of, such as gay conversion therapy. Hopefully those that did attend did learn something new from it, whether or not they agreed.”
The University of Sydney Union withdrew support for the event this morning, on the grounds that “events premised on the entertainment of the suggestion that diverse genders and sexualities are illegitimate or worthy of conversion are inconsistent with the principles of the Union as enunciated in our Constitution.”