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Keir Starmer apologises for visiting church behind gay ‘exorcisms’ 

The Labour leader Keir Starmer has apologised for visiting a north London church that has faced criticism for homophobia.

Starmer said he disagreed with the views espoused by the leaders of Jesus House in Brent, which hosts a vaccination centre but has also been accused of carrying out “exorcisms” on gay people, adding that he only learned of the concerns after his visit on Good Friday.

The Labour leader posted a video of his visit to his Twitter account, provoking severe criticism from LGBTQ+ Labour supporters, who demanded a public apology.

Starmer said: “I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit. I apologise for the hurt my visit caused and have taken down the video. It was a mistake and I accept that.”

The LGBT+ Labour group said it was pleased Starmer had “recognised and apologised for this mistake”. It added: “We look forward to working with you to end conversion therapy and achieve equality for LGBT+ people.”

Earlier on Monday, the group had spoken of the hurt caused by the visit by Starmer and the local Labour MP Dawn Butler.

“We immediately contacted the leader of the opposition’s office to inform them that their visit was unacceptable. We reiterated how important it is that the party stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the LGBT+ community, as it has so often done in its history, and that the visit had caused considerable damage to that aim,” the group said.

“More importantly, we told the leader of the opposition that the community was extremely hurt by their actions. We also conveyed that the LGBT+ community’s trust in the party was already in question, given their lack of action over transphobia in the party – including from some of its own elected representatives – and that incidents like this were adding to that problem.”

The group said it had accepted the explanation from Starmer’s office that the necessary research had not been carried out ahead of the visit. But they criticised Starmer for not immediately issuing a public apology and said members of the shadow cabinet had sought to justify the visit instead.

The Labour leader is not the only public figure to have faced criticism for visiting Jesus House. In March, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, visited the church and praised its “work supporting the community during the pandemic and promoting uptake of the vaccine”. The video is still live.

He had been warned about the church’s views ahead of a visit in 2009, while he was the mayor of London. At the time, his spokesperson said he “deplores homophobia”. Nevertheless, Johnson went ahead with both visits.

In 2006, the church’s pastor Agu Irukwu signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph arguing that equality laws would force his church to “accept and even promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality”.

In 2009, the liberal Christian group Ekklesia accused the church of carrying out “exorcisms” of gay people. It said Jesus House claimed they were “done only with the calm consent of the person concerned”.

The church’s work on promoting vaccine uptake has also been featured in the Observer.

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