Exeter students are planning to submit a petition voicing concerns over the behaviour of The Wilberforce Academy conference at Exeter during the Easter vacation and the College’s response.
The annual conference was organised by pressure group Christian Concern, who have advocated ‘corrective therapy’ for homosexuals.
The petition currently has 146 signatures and aims to stop future conferences at the College causing hurt and offence to students.
It outlines the treatment of Exeter student Nicholas Georgiou, stating, ‘[Georgiou] was approached by a conference representative during the peaceful protest who, without provocation, made direct and explicit comparisons between [Georgiou’s] homosexuality and paedophilia, and labelled him as ‘immoral’.
‘A representative from Thames Valley Police’s HALT (Homophobia Awareness Liaison Team) present at the protest later contacted Nick and encouraged him to report the incident which has now been recorded by police.”
The petition also raises objections to talks held by Christian Concern, entitled ‘Understanding the Challenge of Islam’ and ‘Triple Jeopardy: Aggressive Secularism, Islamism, and Multiculturalism’.
It states, ‘Any Muslim student who is told that their religion is a ‘challenge’ would naturally take offence.’
Georgiou told Cherwell that students had been unhappy when they found out about the scheduled conference over the Easter vacation, and described, “the outrage many of us felt at the prospect of offering a platform to a conference organised by a self-professed fundamentalist religious group.”
The Academy’s arrival prompted a group of Exeter students to organise a peaceful protest. Exeter first year Edward Nickell said, “Our best act of defiance was the massive LGBT party hosted by the MCR. Attendance was fantastic, everyone had an amazing time, undergrads, postgrads and staff”.
The petition also highlights what it describes as “the indolence of [Exeter] College when it came both to responding to media criticism and to ensuring the behaviour of the conference participants [which] has damaged our image in the public eye.”
Nickell said, ‘The college seem to be so afraid of damaging their reputation that they haven’t done as much as they can to stand against Christian Concern.”
The petition calls on the college ‘to issue a statement of regret for the offence and hurt caused to those in college at the time of the conference…[and to] add further details of the College’s acceptance of LGBT people to the website and the prospectus.”
The petition will also ask the college to “issue a statement to the effect that this conference will not be welcomed in future years”, and to introduce a “new vetting process for private conferences”.
Edward Allnutt, LGBTQ rep at Exeter, told Cherwell, ‘We want to underline…that this petition is more about moving forwards with college to retain an open, friendly atmosphere to LGBTQ and other communities, than it is about attacking them for past mistakes.’
Exeter linguist Ianthe Fry expressed her support, saying, “I approve of this petition, it shows the importance we place in maintaining the friendly and tolerant enviroment we have here at Exeter.”
Georgiou said that he was “very proud to be a member of such a modern and forward-thinking JCR.”
Students from other colleges were also supportive of the petition. Lincoln student Mitchell Byrne said, “As a Christian myself, I feel it is important that we are careful not to see a division between LGBT and the Christian faith, the petition is a good way to ensure that this is the case.”
Exeter College declined to comment. Christian Concern did not reply when contacted.