Gay conversion case: Matthew Grech interview ‘made me feel degraded and dirty’

Case against gay conversion therapy advocate Matthew Grech continues on Friday

Gay conversion advocate Matthew Grech
Gay conversion advocate Matthew Grech

One of the complainants who filed a police report against a fawning TV interview with gay conversion therapy advocate Matthew Grech, told a court she felt “degraded and dirty” after watching it.

The compilation of evidence against Grech and the directors of PM News, Mario Camilleri and Rita Bonnici, continued before Magistrate Monica Vella on Friday.

The defendants are accused of breaching the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Act and advertising the bogus therapy. If found guilty, they could face prison sentences of up to five months and fines ranging from €1,000 to €5,000.

The report was filed at Rabat by Silvan Agius, an expert in European Commissioner Helena Dalli’s cabinet, LGBTIQ rights activist Cynthia Chircop and Christian Attard, formerly a Malta Gay Rights Movement president.

In court today, a police officer confirmed that Grech had appeared on the streamed PM News programme as a representative of the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice (IFTCC), an international organisation that campaigns for the banned practice.

Chircop told the court she heard of the programme three weeks after airing, finding Grech’s participation a significant factor given his affiliation with organisations known for denigrating the LGBTQ+ community.

She said Grech had appeared in videos quoting parts of the Bible condemning homosexuality and how he had been helped to “abandon his sexuality and return to God.” His involvement with an organisation connected to the IFTCC was also highlighted.

The TV programme had made her feel like she was back at school, Chircop said. “I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school where being LGBT was seen as negative.”

Chircop quoted a 2022 article by Declan Henry, describing gay conversion therapy as “makeshift pseudo-science, talking therapy to convince anybody struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity that there are choices available that will free them of their emotional suffering.”

The magistrate disallowed a question from defence lawyer Emmy Bezzina, asking where his clients had committed a legal breach. “She is not a legal expert. God forbid that everyone who files a report needs to know the law.”

“To me, they gave a platform to Matthew Grech to advertise gay conversion therapy,” Chircop said.

“So I can’t talk about conversion therapy on a radio programme? My foot! I’ll make 20 programmes and I challenge you to arraign me for each one,” Bezzina said, his face a shade of magenta as the Court asked the lawyer to calm down.

Taking the stand, complainant Silvan Agius said the PM News programme had been offensive and demeaning to the LGBTQI+ community. He highlighted the advertisement for the programme, which introduced Grech as a representative of right-wing party ABBA and IFTCC, organisations known for their negative views on gay rights. “I had never seen that cocktail before,” Agius said.

Agius expressed his concerns about conversion therapy, explaining that it aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and often leads to harm. “I did not see a programme, I saw an offensive diatribe.”

What was said during the programme proved his suspicions right, Agius told the court, explaining how the conversation shifted from how to live a cisgender lifestyle, to the “evil” of the LGBTIQ lifestyle.

The discussion was aligned with the IFTCC’s philosophy, Agius said, which claims that homosexuality is a learned behaviour. He insisted the content of the programme was illegal and harmful.

Under cross-examination, Agius insisted that the programme was promoting conversion therapy, mentioning IFTCC and ABBA, which converge on this topic. “Both ABBA’s leader Ivan Grech Mintoff and Matthew Grech are signatories to the IFTCC declaration.”

He rejected the suggestion that Grech was simply expressing his views. Grech could not be separated from the organisations he represented, said Agius, adding that it was not simply a conversation about the practices.

Lawyer Bezzina told Agius: “You are saying that you can criticise everyone else, but I cannot criticise you... What right do you have to do this?” asked the lawyer, describing Agius as “obsessed.”

“I repeat, the original advertisement of the program gave a clear indication of its content, which was executed and expanded on in the program which followed it,” Agius replied. “They gave a full platform to Grech for the duration of the programme, giving him immense freedom to espouse his views and offered little in the way of challenging questions.”

Agius said the advertisement of a harmful practice was not only the responsibility of the advertiser but also the publisher’s. “I felt degraded and dirty at the way we were being described... there was no attempt to give true contrast in the programme,” Agius said. 

Inspector Roderick Attard is prosecuting. Lawyers Emmy Bezzina, Arthur Azzopardi, Joe Bugeja and Jeanice Dalli are assisting Grech. Lawyers Cedric Mifsud and Ian Barbara are appearing parte civile.