Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has acknowledged the anger felt by LGBT groups at the appointment of Evangelical leader and gay rights critic Joel Edwards to the organisation.

Edwards has now stepped down as General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, a body which has consistently opposed gay rights in the UK.

It gave evidence to a House of Commons committee opposing a new crime of incitement to violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and launched large-scale campaigns against the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which ensure equality for gay, lesbian and bisexual people when accessing goods and services.

Speaking at the Faith, Homophobia, Transphobia and Human Rights Conference, Phillips talked about the controversial appointment, expressing his regret.

“I want today to acknowledge the real hurt and pain this has caused many in the LGBT communities. And I want to acknowledge my own failure to understand it wasn’t just a few strong voices from lobby groups but the voice of many in the community. I wish that we had handled this differently and that I knew then what I know now,” he said.

“I supported the appointment of Joel Edwards and I continue to support his work today.

“There is a reason why Joel Edwards is no longer General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance. And it may be hard for people to see this who come from outside the community, the background that he does. He made a choice, either to join us or to stay with the Alliance, much of whose attitudes he could no longer espouse. And he made that choice and I’m going to ask you today at least to consider that sometimes out of conflict can come new possibilities.

“If we take the parallel of civil rights precisely, let’s remember that people change because people talked across lines where it was never thought possible to have a conversation. We think today it was John F Kennedy who brought in civil rights, voting act, legislation. It wasn’t. It was a southern right wing senator, Johnson, who brought that and the great society. Now, I’m not going to claim that Joel Edwards is some kind of hero. He isn’t. Or indeed LBJ is some kind of hero.

“But let us remember what is the point here, the point here is change and sometimes we have to open our eyes to the possibility that change comes in strange and difficult ways.”

Rev Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Association, who was present at the speech, told PinkNews.co.uk: “It was very nice to hear him speak so honestly and candidly. However, it raises some questions that someone in his position could have been so naive.

“He was saying he made an error of judgement but said Joel Edwards has changed. Why haven’t we heard anything about this? He’s still involved with Evangelical Alliance, he is still their spokesman. This would appear to contradict what Trevor said about moving on.

“It’s very nice but it’s just words, rather than action on this. He made it clear he had no intention of taking any action. It’s just an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters and raises more questions than it answers.”