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Former members warn of a meditation group's "homophobic agenda"

Queensland Pride/July 31, 2008

A religious sect that runs meditation and yoga courses in partnership with the Gold Coast City Council is a homophobic cult that teaches gays can be 'cured' by chanting, according to former members.

The Australian School of Meditation and Yoga, which runs four "lifestyle centres" on the Gold Coast, one in West End and others in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, is run by the Science of Identity sect.

The sect, which claims a membership of 20,000 worldwide, is headed by Guru Chris Butler, who began collecting disciples in the late 1960s and formed the cult in 1977. Butler's disciples also call him Srila Prabhupad, which means "he who is in the position of God".

Former member, "Justin", 30, told Queensland Pride he was "born into" the cult because his parents had been members since the 1970s. When he came out to his parents at the age of 16, he was disowned.

"They kicked me out and told me the house would need to be sterilised because being gay was dirty, and my father said he hoped I died in hospital of AIDS," Justin said.

"They have interesting 'facts' they put out about homosexuality. I was told that AIDS can live on warm surfaces for 48 hours, so that you can pick it up from toilet seats, and that kids can pick it up by putting fingers in their mouths.

"They tell stories that gays eat faeces and have up to 2,000 sexual partners a year.

"[They also taught] that by chanting you'd be cured of being gay," he said.

Leaving the cult was the only way to find out any different, Justin said, as children in the group are all home-schooled.

"My education was practically non-existent. Everything you do in the cult is pretty much watched, and you're insulated and isolated and you only associated with people inside the cult.

"It was extremely difficult to grow up around this and deal with how I was feeling. I went into denial about [being gay]," he said.

Homophobia, Justin said, had "always been a part of it, but it increased over the years, particularly when they started doing political campaigns."

Another former cult member, Cara James, told Queensland Pride Guru Chris Butler was convinced there is a "gay agenda".

"Once, he started talking about Jesus at Christmas and went into a complete tirade against gay people, claiming that gays were trying to get rid of Christmas," James said.

She said the cult is "very guarded" about who they allow to hear Butler's lectures, because "they are very much aware of the fact that they would breach vilification laws".

A German edition of 'The Identity Crisis'.

In a pamphlet, Homosexuality: The Identity Crisis, Butler wrote: "The homosexuals are trying to convince themselves and others that their perverted sexual dealings are very satisfying, that's why they call themselves gay, as if they are in perpetual bliss and are free".

Certainly, bliss has eluded "Justin" in the fourteen years since he physically freed himself from the Science of Identity.

He said the experience had left him with a social phobia that made it difficult for him to trust others.

"It's hard to overcome the cult's teachings on society's evils. They create a lot of fear. I've read that a lot of cult members have a lot of the same issues with facing the indoctrinated teachings," he said.

Gold Coast City Council is currently investigating its connections with the Science of Identity.

Council Community Services director Collette McCool told the Gold Coast Bulletin she has referred some allegations about the group to the police.

"These allegations are very disturbing," she said.

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