Lewes couple challenge the legality of council sale of former school to ‘homophobic sect’ that claims it can ‘cure’ gays.
Tony Leonard and Dominic McCartan have written to East Sussex County Council Chief Executive, Ms Becky Shaw, asking her to explain how the council’s decision to sell the former site of St Anne’s School at a price below its market value to a religious organisation, Subud, is in keeping with its obligations under the Equality Act 2010.
The bid by Subud was accepted by the council despite being lower than two other offers by charities, both of which planned to build much-needed affordable housing on the four-acre site of the former special school.
Freedom of information requests for an explanation of the controversial decision from the council have been turned down on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.
The religious sect, Subud, founded in Indonesia in the 1920s, plans to build two halls for its gender-segregated ritual of worship (the ‘Latihan’) which the organisation claims can ‘correct’ homosexuality, which it classifies as a ‘disease of the soul’. It also plans to use the site for various therapy and counselling services.
Mr Leonard said: “We believe that Subud’s misguided beliefs and harmful practices represent a real danger to the health, well-being, and even lives of many vulnerable people who have not yet come to terms with their own sexuality. Homophobia is hurtful wherever it occurs but when it is internalised by presenting homosexuality as an aberration, a pathology or a sin, it results in self-loathing, loneliness, depression and even suicide.
“To claim that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured by spiritual intervention or therapy is a hateful lie that sets vulnerable people up for failure and despair. It is a model that has been rejected by every reputable therapists’ organisation in this country. It is the kind of denial and self-repression promoted by Subud, not homosexuality, that causes mental health problems.”
Mr McCartan added: “Public authorities have a legal requirement to tackle homophobic discrimination in their jurisdiction, not support and promote it as ESCC appears to be doing through this sale. Subud members have the right to believe whatever they want, but the wider community, including LGBT people, should not be expected to support their hateful bile by selling them public assets at a greatly reduced knock-down price.”
Anger over the council’s decision has been brewing for several months on the town’s popular internet forum, www.lewes.co.uk, with contributors repeatedly calling on councillors and officers to explain their decision.
The latest row over Subud’s homophobic philosophy and gay cure claims follows on from revelations that the sect, whose members have been heavily involved in environmental and ecological campaigns in East Sussex, has been promoting mining, palm oil and timber projects in the Borneo rainforest (Kalimantan Gold Corporation) and another Subud project (Sonerex Oil and Gas Ltd) has recently been awarded exploratory rights for fracking in Newport, South Wales.
A spokesperson for East Sussex Country Council, 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.”
“While we cannot discuss individual bids, we would emphasise that when we dispose of a site it’s important we consider not just the financial value that we can obtain from its sale, but that we ensure the site is used in a way that best benefits the community.”