Activist denies church abuse in court

Activist denies church abuse in court

Far-right extremist Neil Erikson walked into a queer-friendly church and hurled homophobic abuse at its attendees before live-streaming the aftermath, a Victorian court has been told.

Erikson on Wednesday faced an online contest mention at the Melbourne Magistrates Court, seated in front of an Australian flag draped on the wall.

The 36-year-old has been charged with wilfully disturbing a religious service run by the Metropolitan Community Church at Hawthorn, in Melbourne's east, in May 2019. He has pleaded not guilty.

Erikson, representing himself in court, was given the opportunity to cross-examine members of the church group he allegedly abused.

One of them, Matt Pepall, told the court that Erikson, along with two women, had originally been permitted to take a seat after entering the building 15 minutes into a service.

But he then stood and allegedly asked why the group “married sodomites” before using other homophobic slurs.

Mr Pepall said several elderly members of the group were physically shaking after Erikson and the two women were asked to leave, but refused.

“Many of them have been through gay bashing, hurled insults, and pushed out of their communities and social groups because of their sexuality,” Mr Pepall told the court.

“Lots of physical and emotional abuse … so when that happened I could see lots of them were very shaken.

“We try to provide a safe space where people can come and feel like they're not going to be abused. It affected a lot people in a lot different ways.”

Mr Pepall said the church group called police when Erikson refused to leave but only decided to take the matter further after discovering Erikson had live-streamed the incident.

This caused further distress, he said, as several of the group's attendees had not yet 'come out' to their family members.

Another member, Rolland Pike, described Erikson's behaviour as “intimidating”, “accusatory” and “demeaning”.

“We were all a bit stunned and frightened,” Mr Pike told the court.

“It got very heated. The stress level was incredibly high – it's not something we'd expect to experience at church.”

Another church member, Louise Noorbergen, told the court Erikson said: “You're not Christians you're a bunch of f******”.

“It was a horrible situation,” she said.

Erikson has previously participated in Melbourne street riots in support of far-right activism.

The three-day hearing before magistrate Angela Bolger continues.

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