Victoria’s gay and lesbian community had been warned to brace itself for a gay hate campaign by the notoriously anti-gay Christian group, Exclusive Brethren.

Gay rights activist Rodney Croome said it seemed certain the secretive religious sect would try to drum up homophobic sentiment and influence November’s state election.

The alarm was sounded after Victorian Nationals leader, Peter Ryan, confirmed he had met with members of the Exclusive Brethren, The Age reported.

The group may be planning to campaign on the issue of civil unions, a topic which is currently before the state’s government. Though the legislation is not expected to be passed it does have support amongst some parliamentarians, including those in the Liberal party.

The Exclusive Brethren is renowned for supporting conservative political parties, such as the Liberals and Nationals, and using anti-gay material in attempts to influence voters.

This week New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark accused the Exclusive Brethren of being behind a smear-campaign suggesting her husband was gay.

The group was also accused of waging an anti-gay, anti-transgender and anti-Greens campaign in Tasmania before the state elections in March this year.

The Tasmanian Anti Discrimination Board is investigating a complaint made by rights advocate Martine Delaney who said the Brethren’s election material incited hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The Victorian gay community must be prepared to meet this challenge if the weakest in its midst, particularly those who live in rural and regional centres, are not to suffer from the prejudice the Brethren fostered in Tasmania, Croome said.

Greens senator Christine Milne also warned Victorians to be aware of the Exclusive Brethern, who she said were trying to deliberately deceive voters.

The Exclusive Brethren have around 18,000 members in Australia and do not vote in elections as they believe governments are chosen by God, The Age reported.

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