Toronto’s queer community centre has refused to allow a support group for gay “survivors of religious abuse” to put up a poster on its notice board.
“They will not allow any notice from any religious group at all,” says Darin (Darin asked that his last name not be used for fear of harassment by fundamentalist ex-gays), the founder of Soul Survivors. “They will not post notices from gay Muslims, gay Christians, gay Jews or from our group, which is religious abuse survivors.”
Helen Rykens, the office manager of the 519 Community Centre, says the staff member who refused to post the notice was following the centre’s official policy.
“We don’t post religious notices. It has to very clearly be a nonreligious group. We can have their meetings here, but we don’t put up any postings.
“The minute that stuff is up, the fundamentalist groups will come in and say, ‘Why are you giving those people special treatment?’ If we say, ‘Oh, they’re gay and lesbian groups,’ they’ll say, ‘We’re just trying to help gays and lesbians, so we’re a gay and lesbian group, too.'”
Darin says he complained that The 519’s prohibitions went against the City Of Toronto’s antidiscrimination policy. Any group like The 519 which receives funding from the city has to agree to abide by the city’s policy, which bans discrimination on the basis of colour, ethnic origin, sexual orientation and religion, among others.
But Rykens says the centre’s policy is not discriminatory. “We treat all religious groups exactly the same.”
Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, the city’s manager of diversity management and community engagement, says any action the city might take would depend on the circumstances.
“Any complaint that is received is an allegation and would require investigation to determine whether or not a violation of the policy has taken place.”
Rykens says she personally was not aware of Soul Survivors’ poster request. “If I saw the posting, I would have a better idea. I would love to meet with the group and see what we can do to help them out.”
Darin says he founded Soul Survivors about eight months ago to help people like himself. He says he had come out as a teen, but was persuaded by his fundamentalist church that he couldn’t be gay.
“I had a good introduction to gay people and the gay lifestyle, but I had totally fallen in love with God. I wanted a relationship with God more than anything and I was being told I can’t have this relationship…. I chose to turn my back on the gay community. I spent about 10 years as an ex-gay, I became engaged to a woman and went off to Bible college to become a pastor.”
But Darin says he didn’t stop having homosexual feelings; eventually he left the church.
“When I left the ex-gay movement, I did not leave happy and go off to be gay. I left suicidal. I hated life. I left as a cult victim…. I got involved in a very destructive lifestyle because this is what was presented to me as gay. I was very promiscuous, had a number of addictions.”
Darin says that eventually he entered a 12-step program and got sober.
“Soul Survivors is not necessarily a Christian group. We believe in all faiths. The only requirement is that you have suffered some form of religious abuse and you want a relationship with God.”