The gay community may risk funding its own persecution after a company owned by an anti-gay activist took over one of the country’s biggest rail franchises, campaigners warned today.
Bus and train operator StageCoach was this morning awarded the franchise to run South Western trains, which operates from gay hotspots such as London Waterloo, but gay rail passengers have expressed concern regarding the company’s chief exectuive Brian Souter, who previously funded a campaign against repealing Section 28.
In 2000 Mr Souter, an evangelical Methodist, donated half a million pounds to a campaign in Scotland to uphold Section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality, he cited his religious beliefs as justification for his actions, insisting he is not homophobic.
Reverend Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement warned that passengers using the service risked funding further campaigns against lesbian and gay rights, he told PinkNews.co.uk: “Brian Souter’s reputation has never recovered from his atempts to prevent the abolishment of Section 28 in Scotland. The more money the company makes in profit the more likely he is to be tempted to use his influence against gay and lesbian civil rights.
“He has to be brought to account for his pronounced homophobia, anybody using his businesses is in effect colluding with the continuation of homophobia.
Josephine Humphrey regularly travels from Brighton on South Western trains to visit her friends and family, she said she would like to have the choice between a homophobe and a different service, she told PinkNews.co.uk: “I find it shocking, well more sadly ironic, that a man who gave 500,000 to the anti-repealing clause 28 lobby in 2000, can be awarded the train franchise for the most queer city in England.”
She already refuses to travel on Stagecoach buses but says the only way to visit her parents in Exeter is by rail.
Jason Pollock, chief executive of gay pride organiser Pride London was shocked at the news. He said it was hard to know how to react as so many gay people use the line from Brighton to London.
He told PinkNews.co.uk: “PrideLondon appals homophobia in any form.”
Mr Souter insisted at the time of the debate over Section 28 that he is not homophobic but is against promoting homosexuality.
There are no signs that his companies would act in a discriminatory way to gay customers, and StageCoach and South Western Trains are both subject to equal opportunities legislation and the incoming equality in goods and services laws.