Antigay Group's Conference Spurs Controversy at Oxford

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on March 02 2012 9:00 PM ET

Exeter College, part of the U.K.’s Oxford University, is drawing criticism over its rental of facilities for an antigay group’s conference, with at least one student turning in his diploma in protest.

Christian Concern will hold its annual Wilberforce Academy, a training program with the stated goal of helping attendees “develop a solid biblical foundation for leadership in public life,” at Exeter the last week of March, when students are on vacation. The group “has frequently attempted to block gay equality measures,” reports U.K. website Pink News.

It opposed antidiscrimination laws and is currently fighting efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, and a related organization, the Christian Legal Centre, is helping a psychotherapist appeal her conviction of malpractice by offering an undercover journalist a “cure” for homosexuality. The U.S.-based Alliance Defense Fund, a right-wing legal group, is also involved with the conference.

Criticism has come from students, faculty, and national LGBT rights groups. “Gay students, and many Christians, will be deeply offended to see extremist groups given a platform at Exeter College,” Sam Dick, policy director for the gay rights group Stonewall, told the Oxford Student, a campus newspaper. “These murky groups spread intolerance and hatred against gay people in the U.K. and the U.S.” Michael Amherst, who graduated from Exeter with a degree in English, returned his diploma and wrote a letter to school administrators saying, “Exeter College is no longer a place with which I wish to be associated,” Pink News reports.

Christian Concern CEO Andrea Minichiello Williams, meanwhile, said her organization was a victim of intolerance and that it does not discriminate but merely promotes a biblical worldview. “The Bible says clearly that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that all sex outside of marriage is wrong,” she told the Oxford Student.

In a statement on the Exeter website, college rector Frances Cairncross and a group of LGBT student representatives said the rental of facilities to Christian Concern does not take away from the fact that the Exeter has a record of being welcoming and respectful to students and staff “of all sexual orientations.” The college is “currently reviewing the basis on which we take bookings for conferences and other events,” Cairncross added.