San Diego

‘Conversion Therapy' Conference in San Diego Draws Criticism and Protesters

California outlawed conversion therapy, but the Restored Hope Network--a group based in Oregon--believes in it

A religious conference being held in San Diego this weekend is sparking backlash among the local LGBTQ community.

About 400 people packed into the pews for Restored Hope Network's Hope 2017 convention Friday morning.

The conference drew protestors and criticism because of the group's belief in conversion therapy -- the belief that homosexuality can be "cured by God."

"Conversion therapy is like trying to convert somebody who is left-handed into right-handed," said protestor Lilly Holiday. "There is nothing wrong with you. You’re not broken. And we’re here to basically say that nobody here is broken. They’re not broken and when they’re ready, they have an entire community that is here for them."

San Diego's LGBTQ community is planning a weekend-long counter-conference to speak out against the group.

"If they don't want to be transformed, if that’s not their goal, we certainly respect their choice to not pursue this--absolutely. It’s very self-driven. What is a person’s desire in life? If they want to be gay, we respect that," said Anne Paulk, Restored Hope Network's Executive Director.

NBC 7 spoke with Metropolitan Community Church Rev. Dan Koeshall Thursday about the conference.

"It all came back. I can't believe this is still going on," he said.

Koeshall said he has known he was gay for years.

"It was a pretty traumatic experience coming out," he told NBC 7. "There were tears. The first thing my mom asked, 'What did I do wrong?'"

Koeshall said his father was a preacher and his mother played the organ. He knew early on he wanted to join the ministry.

"We would talk about ways you could change and the power that God can give you to overcome homosexuality," Koeshall said, speaking of his family.

He said he signed up for a "pray the gay away" camp.

"Instead of taking it away, it taught me to stuff and submerge my feelings, which was very unhealthy," Koeshall said.

That's why he's speaking out now.

California outlawed conversion therapy, but the Restored Hope Network — a group based in Oregon — believes in it.

In a statement provided to NBC 7 Thursday, Paulk said the conference "does not seek to break the law; nor do our members.”

The statement further read:

“We expect the respect and freedom to leave homosexuality as much as respecting their right to remain homosexual or transgender. Tolerance is truly a two-way street. Those who do not wish to leave homosexual relationships do not speak for those of us who do or have left homosexuality.”

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