‘Ex-gay’ Matthew Grech to be charged for breaching conversion therapy ban

River of Love adherent and promoter of “ex-gay” culture Matthew Grech claims political revenge over charges of breaching gay conversion ad ban

A member of the pentecostal evangelist group River of Love, the singer Matthew Grech, has said he has been charged with breaching Malta’s gay conversion ban, over comments he gave to a livestreamed discussion.

Grech, who says he is a former homosexual “converted” through his Christian faith to renounce his sexual orientation, said on a Facebook video that he had been charged along with the producers of PM News.

‘Public Media News’ is run by Mario Camilleri and Rita Bonnici, and has in the past featured commentary against Malta’s COVID rules, while featuring extensively vaccine-sceptics like Rudolf Ragonesi.

Grech said he will be arraigned in court on 3 February on charges of breaching the ban on advertisement of gay conversion therapies, a law introduced in 2016. But the timing of the charges appears to coincide with a recent announcement last week by parliamentary secretary for reforms Rebecca Buttigieg to amend the law due to various loopholes.

“This is political revenge,” Grech said on Facebook, claiming the charges come weeks after police charged satirist Matt Bonnano in court over a complaint by River of Love pastor Gordon John Manché. “I was asked to appear on a PM News Malta programme where I recalled my experience as a Christian on how I came out of homosexuality,” he told MaltaToday.

Grech also accused parliamentary secretary Rebecca Buttiegieg of being an ‘accomplice’ of Matt Bonanno over his lampooning of River Of Love. Bonanno is facing charges of breachign the Electronic Misuse Act, risking up to €50,000 in fines over a Facebook comment in which he said River of Love should be carpet-bombed. The charges follow a criminal complaint filed by Manché the previous year.

While conversion therapy advertisement is illegal in Malta, introduced in the 2016 Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Bill, gay rights activists say the ambiguous definition of advertising had led to a loophole in the conversion therapy bill allowing it to be violated.

Former Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja recently alluded on TVM’s Xtra that TV and social media programmes had breached the ban over the past six years because of the absence on the definition of “advertisement” in the law.

In his livestream announcing the charges, Grech accused the government of failing to “include God’s word” in the law. “Who do you think you are, questioning God’s army? You’re going up against God himself,” he said.

PM News Malta deleted the programme from its platforms but refused to take any questions on the case when asked by MaltaToday.

As a member of the River of Love congregation, Grech has previously called on his Facebook followers not to vote for Labour in 2019, saying this was a  “a vote... that grieves our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Grech had crossed swords with equality minister Helena Dalli in 2018 over his remarks on X Factor Malta about homosexuality.

Grech had described homosexuality as a sin in comments aired before he went in for his X Factor audition. The judges put him through to the next round of the singing competition, but his comments raised a social media backlash as critics voiced their displeasure and disgust with Grech’s anti-gay remarks.

River of Love’s leader Gordon-John Manché has always denied carrying out a gay conversion after a protest led by MGRM outside the congregation’s headquarters had raised awareness about the harmful therapy.

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri took to Facebook to reinforce the government’s stance on gay conversion therapy. 

"Such incidents demonstrate the importance of continuing reforms and equity work. Everyone has the freedom to live their lives according to their sexual orientation," said Camilleri.

The Minister concluded his post by recalling how Malta was the first EU state to take ban conversion therapy.