By Martin Banks - 17th January 2011
I never cease to be amazed by the instant indignation and intolerance of this strident lobby group
UK Conservative party leader David Cameron has been urged to condemn "breathtaking" comments about gay people by Tory MEP Roger Helmer.
On Sunday, Helmer tweeted: "Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex-change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to 'turn' a consenting homosexual?"
He was responding to an article at the weekend in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper about how a British psychotherapist who tried to "convert" a gay man to become heterosexual now faces being struck off.
Lesley Pilkington, 60, a psychotherapist for 20 years, faces being stripped of her accreditation to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) after treating a patient who had told her he wanted to be "cured" of his homosexuality.
The patient was in fact a prominent homosexual rights campaigner and journalist, who secretly recorded two sessions with Pilkington before reporting her to the BACP.
She faces a disciplinary hearing later this week.
Many users of the social networking site Twitter have reacted angrily, with a "sackhelmer" hash tag beginning to be used by campaigners.
Other UK MEPs have also castigated Helmer and insisted that Cameron condemn the comments "or risk associating his party with highly offensive homophobic views".
Labour's leader in the European parliament, Glenis Willmott also called on Cameron to distance his party from the statement.
She said, "The Conservative party chose Helmer as a political candidate. If Cameron says nothing then he will be confirming the fact that he still leads the nasty party.
"We need to hear from the prime minister whether he considers these statements to be appropriate for someone elected on a Conservative party platform."
Fellow S&D deputy Michael Cashman, who chairs a parliamentary group dealing with gay rights, added, "Helmer's ignorance is breathtaking. He fails to understand the distinct issues of gender identity and sexual preference.
"Homosexuality is not something that needs 'curing' unless you want to escape the awful persecuting environment which is created by statements like Helmer's.
"Cameron made much of his 'apology' for the Tory party's discrimination of gay people through section 28 and he claims that his party has changed.
"If he is sincere, he must take action against Helmer. If he does nothing, he will be condoning Helmer's view and proving that the Tories are still the nasty party without the guts to stand up for minorities."
Section 28 was an amendment to the UK's local government act 1986, stating that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality".
On Monday, Helmer, however, resolutely stood by his comments and told this website they were "perfectly legitimate".
Referring to his tweet, he said, "I am told that this is now all over the internet but it was a reasonable question, modestly asked."
He said, "I never cease to be amazed by the instant indignation and intolerance of this strident lobby group."
He laughed off demands that he should face disciplinary action, "I take these things with a pinch of salt."
Helmer is no stranger to controversy. In July 2009 he reportedly claimed that homophobia does not exist, saying: "In psychiatry, a phobia is defined as an irrational fear. I have yet to meet anyone who has an irrational fear of homosexuals, or of homosexuality."
According to his critics, he has also consistently voted against equality legislation in parliament and has voted against a number of resolutions which condemned homophobic violence.