Lewes couple challenge the legality of council sale of former school to ‘homophobic sect’ that claims it can ‘cure’ gays.

Tony Leonard & Dominic McCartan have written to East Sussex County Council Chief Executive, Ms Becky Shaw, demanding that the council explains how its decision to sell the former site of St Anne’s School at a price below its market value to religious organisation, Subud, is in keeping with its obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

September 1st 2014.

Dear Ms Shaw,

We are writing in regard to East Sussex County Council’s proposed sale of the St Anne’s site at a below market price to the religious sect, Subud. We understand that ESCC are able to agree to sell public assets at reduced cost if the sale is of benefit to the community.

We would like to enquire how ESCC’s legal obligation to ‘having due regard’ was exercised during the various stages of the decision to accept Subud’s bid.

Please note that we have copied this letter to Stonewall, the LGBT charity, and the Equality Advisory Support Service (both of which have provided me with information) and other interested parties. Your prompt reply is most eagerly anticipated and will no doubt be closely scrutinised by the above with a view to possible intervention by the Equality & Human Rights Commission.

We would like to remind you that according to the Equality Act 2010, East Sussex County Council, as a public body, has an equality duty to take account of equality, discrimination and good relations between protected groups in order to embed equality considerations into the day to day work of public authorities in order to counter discrimination and inequality.

The equality duty covers age, disability, gender re-assignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Under this legislation, East Sussex County Council has a general duty which makes clear the goals to which public authorities must have due regard in carrying out their functions.
The general duty also applies to voluntary or private organisations if they are carrying out public functions on behalf of public bodies – therefore any community services offered by Subud in return for the reduced price at which they acquired the building from ESCC are also required to comply with the general duty.

The general duty has three aims. Public bodies in all their operations must have due regard to the need to:

• eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
• advance equality of opportunity between people from different (equality) groups
• foster good relations between people from different (equality) groups.

The phrase ‘having due regard’ means that a public body must consciously consider the three aims of the general duty in all its decision making.

In advancing equality of opportunity public bodies will need to consider:

• removing or minimising disadvantages experienced by people because of their protected characteristics
• meeting the needs of people with protected characteristics
• encouraging people with protected characteristics to participate in public life.

The requirement to ‘advance equality of opportunity’ is stronger than the previous duties which only required the ‘promotion of equality’.

Fostering good relations means tackling prejudice and promoting understanding between people from different groups.

The religious sect, Subud, is a homophobic organisation that classifies homosexuality as a “disease of the soul” and claims that it can ‘cure’ homosexuality through the practice of the ‘latihan’. This position has been stated repeatedly in the talks and writings of Subud’s founder, Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo (usually referred to as Pak Subuh or Bapak).

Here’s what Bapak says about homosexuality in Pewarta Kedjiwaan Subud, Replies to Member’s Question, Volume 5, #157. “Your habit of being a homosexual is actually a habit and conduct which violates the Will of God. For this reason, if someone behaves in this way he is classed as a sinner. This is how it is. So you should really and truly feel about this matter, and since you have been able to receive and practice the latihan kedjiwaan you should prevent the urge of the passions which want to do this, and turn your inner-feeling to the Power of Almighty God with trust and sincerity, so that your inner-self will be protected from the influence of these bad forces. That is all, and Bapak prays that you will be able to carry out what Bapak has said above.”

This is not merely an historical position; Bapak’s teachings remain the underlying philosophy of Subud following his death in 1987. Although membership is open to everyone, in the absence of a single spiritual leader, control of the movement has fallen to local, national and international committees of ‘Helpers’ who are instructed by Bapak’s Advice and Guidance to Helpers. This was last republished in 2013 and remains the most current and up-to-date position of the sect.

The section on homosexuality states:

“The latihan kejiwaan is guidance and training from the power of God which we receive whenever we surrender to Him, free from the influence of the heart and mind. As a result of the latihan kejiwaan sins and faults that are hidden deep within our being are brought to light in order that they may be cleaned out and put right. These are things that we may not have been aware existed within us. It is necessary that we should become aware of these faults within us during the process of purification. Only what is most important for you is that you should not follow or act out the temptations you are experiencing, which are just part of the purification process. This is because homosexuality is not allowed by religion and is not allowed by God. It is a misuse of the body and not only harms a person physically but harms the jiwa in a way that is very difficult to put right.

Therefore, you must be very firm in avoiding such conduct. To lighten your situation the only way possible is to do the latihan with a full feeling of trust in and surrender to the greatness of God Almighty, for He is able to correct those things within us that we are unable to put right.” From Bapak, (letter) 5 May, 1976.

Any questions as to the current status of the doctrines contained in this volume within the sect are clearly and unambiguously answered in the introduction:

“In visiting many groups, we were often surprised to see helpers confused and resorting to testing matters that are clearly explained in previous editions of this book. We would therefore like to recommend strongly that all helpers allow time during their helpers’ meetings, when discussing a problem – before making a decision – to look up what Bapak says about it. We hope that this way all helpers’ work will be lighter and have more clarity.

“Reading Bapak and Ibu Rahayu’s answers to members questions, it is clear to us that many questions would not have been necessary had the content of Bapak’s talks been known to the writers – helpers as well as members. Bapak’s saying, well known by now, ‘stand on your own feet’ surely also implies looking up the answers to our questions in Bapak’s talks ourselves, a task that everyone will find most rewarding, and for which this book may be of great help. ”

There is clearly no confusion as to Subud’s position on homosexuality.

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The fact that Subud regards “being a homosexual is actually a habit and conduct which violates the Will of God”, although nonsensical in terms of our current understanding of the nature and roots of human sexuality, is unfortunately shared by many religious believers, whose rights are also protected under the Equality Act 2010. However it is the legally-stated duty of ESCC to tackle prejudice and foster understanding in order to foster good relations between people from different equality groups. It is our view that the general duty cannot be achieved by selling a public property off cheaply to the benefit of a bigoted and institutionally prejudiced organisation. We are keen to hear how this sale will benefit the wider community when it is clearly deeply offensive and alientating to LGBT community members.

To describe people’s relationships and families in such terms is obviously obnoxious and divisive. LGBT people have fought long and hard against legal discrimination and social exclusion and to witness a local authority endorse an organisation that holds such views is disappointing and distressing. But it is Subud’s claims to be able to “correct” homosexuality, as a “disease of the soul”, through its spiritual practice that makes this sect damaging and dangerous to its own members and members of our community.

Subud promotes the ‘latihan’ as a therapy that can result in the “correction” of homosexual desires. This practice is a form of “reparative therapy” or in layman’s terms, “praying the gay away”.

In 2012, the Pan American Health Organisation / World Health Organisation said in a position statement that “services that purport to “cure” people with non-heterosexual sexual orientation lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.”

“Since homosexuality is not a disorder or a disease, it does not require a cure. There is no medical indication for changing sexual orientation,” said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago. Practices known as “reparative therapy” or “conversion therapy” represent “a serious threat to the health and well-being—even the lives—of affected people.”

“The PAHO statement notes that there is a professional consensus that homosexuality is a natural variation of human sexuality and cannot be regarded as a pathological condition.

“The document notes that no rigorous scientific studies demonstrate any efficacy of efforts to change sexual orientation. However, there are many testimonies about the severe harm to mental and physical health that such “services” can cause. Repression of sexual orientation has been associated with feelings of guilt and shame, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

“To address the problem, PAHO makes a series of recommendations for governments, academic institutions, professional associations, the media, and civil society, including:

• “Conversion” or “reparative” therapies and the clinics offering them should be denounced and subject to adequate sanctions.
• Public institutions responsible for training health professionals should include courses on human sexuality and sexual health in their curricula, with a focus on respect for diversity and the elimination of attitudes of pathologization, rejection, and hate toward non-heterosexual persons.
• Professional associations should disseminate documents and resolutions by national and international institutions and agencies that call for the de-psychopathologization of sexual diversity and the prevention of interventions aimed at changing sexual orientation.
• In the media, homophobia in any of its manifestations and expressed by any person should be exposed as a public health problem and a threat to human dignity and human rights.
• Civil society organizations can develop mechanisms of civil vigilance to detect violations of the human rights of non-heterosexual persons and report them to the relevant authorities. They can also help to identify and report people and institutions involved in the administration of “reparative” or “conversion therapies.”

All the major psychotherapy and counselling professional bodies in the UK have issued statements condemning the practice of “reparative” or “conversion” therapies and interventions. These are some examples:

The British Psychological Society – Dec 2012
“The British Psychological Society (BPS) opposes any psychological, psychotherapeutic or counselling treatments or interventions (often referred to as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapies) that view same sex sexual orientations (including lesbian, gay, bisexual and all other non-heterosexual sexual orientations) as pathological. The BPS believes that people of all genders and identities should be regarded as equal members of society and protected from potentially damaging therapies and pathologising.”

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – Oct 2012
“BACP opposes any psychological treatment such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder, or based on the premise that the client/patient should change his/her sexuality. BACP believes that socially inclusive, non-judgmental attitudes to people who identify across the diverse range of human sexualities will have positive consequences for those individuals, as well as for the wider society in which they live. There is no scientific, rational or ethical reason to treat people who identify within a range of human sexualities any differently from those who identify solely as heterosexual.”

British Psychoanalytic Council – 2011
“The British Psychoanalytic Council opposes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It does not accept that a homosexual orientation is evidence of disturbance of the mind or in development. In psychoanalytic psychotherapy, it is the quality of people’s relationships which are explored, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual.”

UK Council for Psychotherapy – Feb 2010
“UKCP does not consider homosexuality or bisexuality, or transsexual and transgendered states to be pathologies, mental disorders or indicative of developmental arrest. These are not symptoms to be treated by psychotherapists, in the sense of attempting to change or remove them. No responsible psychotherapist will attempt to ‘convert’ a client from homosexuality to heterosexuality (‘reparative’ therapy).”

College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT)
“COSRT as an organisational member of UKCP supports the UKCP statement on the ‘reparative’ therapy of members of sexual minorities. General Members must agree to comply with this document.”

Professional Standards Authority
“The Professional Standards Authority believes gay conversion therapy is inconsistent with our obligations under the Equality Act.”

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Association of Christian Counsellors – Jan 2014
“We recognize that such models have the potential to impose situational demands on the client at a time of vulnerability with the potential to create harm and therefore view them as incompatible within the ethos of counselling.”

A compilation of professional bodies’ positions on “reparative therapies”, written in in response to a request by the Department of Health, can be found here: http://www.healthylives.stonewall.org.uk/includes/documents/cm_docs/2014/c/conversion-therapy-final.pdf

We see from Subud’s plans for St Anne’s that it intends to provide a range of therapies and counselling services. Because of its categorisation that homesexuality “violates the Will of God” and because its interventions to “cure” homosexuality are unethical, unprofessional and present “a serious threat to the health and well-being—even the lives—of affected people” (PAHO/WHO), Subud is not an organisation that can or should be trusted in this role.

We believe that East Sussex County Council is in serious breach of its obligations under the Equality Act 2010 in conducting this below-cost sale. We look forward to your reply, making clear how ‘conscious consideration’ of ESCC’s general duty under the Equality Act was applied at every stage of this process.

Yours sincerely (and in violation of the Will of God according to Subud),

Tony Leonard & Dominic McCartan

A county council spokesman said: ‘East Sussex County Council takes its duty under the Equality Act 2010 extremely seriously and made all bidders aware of this at the application stage. Ability to comply with the Act is always part of an assessment process. In this case prior to assessment of the submitted bids, SUBUD was asked to clarify its position on people from groups protected by the legislation. Following these discussions we are satisfied that SUBUD is an open organisation which does not discriminate against any individuals or groups and has strong links with local communities. The assessment panel was also confident that SUBUD will work with all parts of the community.’



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