Craig Hanlon-Smith looks at the worrying past of someone who wants to be the next MP for Hove and Portslade.
Local Hove resident AJ Paterson decided to do some homework in the run up to the General Election on June 8.
“I just wanted to be informed before the vote” she told me, “and so I simply Googled the names of those standing locally”.
As she entered the name of The Conservatives’ Hove and Portslade candidate Kristy Adams, AJ was unprepared for the unsettling and upsetting memories from over 17 years ago that would come instantly and painfully, flooding back to her.
From 1995 until 2000, before moving to Brighton and Hove, AJ lived in Bedford, in accommodation supported by a local Christian foundation the Kings Arms Church.
Kristy Adams the prospective Conservative candidate for Hove and Portslade was active in this church, as a public speaker for them in 2009/2010 and her husband was listed as a director of the organisation until 2013, but their association goes back many years.
“I do remember her” AJ tells me: “albeit vaguely, this was a long time ago now, but I clearly remember her husband much more.”
There is a great deal of information online linking this church with healing practices aimed at curing gay people of their sexuality.
I begin by asking AJ what practices were witnessed during the time as a member of the church’s community. The response is as immediate as it is chilling:
“Yes I witnessed it but I experienced it first hand. There was an occasion where two of my close friends in the church came into my room and prayed over me; to heal me from my sexuality. I know that at the time they felt that what they were doing was right but it was an experience I have never forgotten.”
I ask then, that if their intentions were ultimately of a caring nature, they thought it was the right course of action, in short they didn’t know any better. AJ interrupts me:
“No. It never felt ok. This practice never felt right to me. My sexuality is only a part of who I am now as it was then, there’s so much more but their focus was all on the sexual orientation.
There was a clear direction from the church that homosexuality was a sin and that it needed to be prayed for and I am aware that the language used in the press and online is around ‘curing gays’ but the term the church and those within it used was healing. They were trying to heal me of my ‘gay-ness’.”
Praying the gay away? “Yes. Absolutely”.
AJ tells me that the practice of healing sexual orientation through prayer was commonplace and a clear direction from the church’s leadership. “What they don’t appreciate though, is that however well-intentioned, this is really damaging and it affects the person on the receiving end long-term”.
What the long-term impact of experiencing the practices of the Kings Arms Church has been on her since?
“Ultimately I think they are kind people, but they just didn’t think about that. The long-term impact upon people…..” AJ stops speaking, is silent then breaks down and becomes quite distressed. I am devastated that something I have said has engendered this response and I apologise. “No, no, really I just want people to know about this, I want to share my story so that people are aware.”
Is this is a story you have shared regularly since moving to Brighton?
“For ten years I didn’t tell anyone, not until I first spoke about it in 2010, it was too painful and ultimately this is why I left Bedford.”
Because of the behaviour of people within the church?
“Yes, definitely. I mean they asked me to leave. Because I had ‘come out’ they had a phrase, which was that I was ‘living outside the garden of Eden’ and that this was not compatible with their beliefs so I had to leave.”
What support have you received in Brighton and Hove since moving here? “Ultimately I came here because I knew there was an active LGBT+ community and I wanted to be a part of that and since being here I have had counselling to support me through what has happened in the past.”
To help come to terms with the experiences within this church?
“Yes. It was a form of spiritual abuse. Abuse because they are putting their views of sexual orientation onto someone in a way that is coercive and controlling. And if you don’t do as they wish, ultimately you experience the toughest form of discipline a church or community can impose upon you. You have to leave.”
So picture the scene. You are removed from a community by the very people you thought were there to support you. You learn to live with the abuse, enter a programme of counselling to guide you through what has happened before and live in a community that is as welcoming as it is progressive. And then some 17 years later, a member of that church stands for election in your local constituency, part of a city known for its LGBT+ communities and support thereof.
How do you feel about the prospect of Kristy Adams formerly of the Kings Arms Church becoming your local MP:
“Of course I am concerned. If Kristy Adams were elected, I would find it difficult to be here. People have been asking questions about her background with the church and she is ignoring them and we have so many questions that we need answers to. I know that the church has done some good work with the homeless and refugees, but this election has reignited all that happened to me. A politician’s background is really important in us understanding who they are and what they stand for. Are they going to overturn the freedoms we have fought for?”
It is clear that throughout our conversation these feelings are as raw for AJ today as they ever were and AJ is about to embark on another programme of counselling.
If it is so upsetting, why it is important to talk publicaly about this now?
“I have never felt this way before in this area. The views of the church are the same as they ever were, Kristy Young was part of that church, I have personal experiences of that church. The silence in not wanting to speak of it is not as important as the need for people to know who this person really is, if this individual’s belief in God’s law is more important than the law of the land. She wants to be the MP for Hove & Portslade afterall.”
AJ’s anxiety at the prospect of Kristy Adams as MP for Hove & Portslade is understandable. The Kings Arms Church has connections to a UK wide and international organisation NewFrontiers (previously New Frontiers International) who actively promote homosexuality as a sin that requires healing. NewFrontiers are in–turn connected to a US based think-tank The Heritage Foundation, which bills itself as a research and educational institution whose mission is to build and promote conservative public policies. The Heritage Foundation was heavily involved in advising President Trump’s transition team, and is thought to have influenced the abortion executive order that prevented any federal money going to abortion charities, on his first day in office.
Before we part company AJ and I both agree that this issue is not about party politics. Our current three MPs who stretch across the political spectrum, Simon Kirby, Peter Kyle and Caroline Lucas have all demonstrated that they believe in the freedoms and equalities of the LGBT+ communities in the city. Kristy Adams has until today refused to answer any questions on her views on same-sex relationships or to say if she thought gay sex is a sin.
Given the opportunity, what questions would you pose to Kristy Adams?
“I would ask that as a citizen of Brighton and Hove, I would like to hear her views on same sex relationships. I would then ask, that as prospective politician, would she give me her word that she would back up the local LGBT+ communities in parliament should there be any future policies that would change or challenge the progress we have made, such as a for example any suggestion of the repeal of same sex marriage. We need to know and she needs to tell us.”
Kristy Adams has responded to Gscene today, saying: “I supported the government as they introduced same sex marriage four years ago and would vote against any attempt to repeal the legislation; I am committed to all forms of equality. I value acceptance of people of all backgrounds, sexes and sexuality. My personal view is that I can’t believe in 2017 that I would need to state the obvious, I have never been homophobic and find it disturbing to hear of people who are. The LGBTQ community in Brighton and Hove champion tolerance and fight injustice and I share their desire to make our community a place of acceptance; I am unambiguous in my support for the LGBTQ community.”