A gay couple have said that a bus driver in the US state of New Mexico told them to sit at the back of the bus because they were holding hands.

Ron McCoy and Chris Bowers had flown into Albuquerque from Portland, Oregon on 28 June, and were in New Mexico for a road trip through the South West, reports KCTV 5.

They were to attend Pride Fest in Albuquerque. The couple sat at the front of a shuttle bus when its driver noticed they were holding hands, he told them to sit at the back.

“I saw him look at us, look down at his hands and he looked so angry. He just blurted out at me, “He goes, OK if you’re going to do that,” said McCoy. “You’re going to the back of the bus.”

Because the couple did not want to cause trouble, they went to sit at the back, but did ask the driver why he had asked them to do so.

“I said ‘I think it was because you didn’t like the fact that I was holding my partner’s hand.’ He goes, ‘see now you’re telling on yourself.’ My partner responds, ‘well that’s discrimination.’ And the driver responds, ‘you’re telling on yourself again,'” he continued.

Bernadette Aguirre, who was witness to the exchange, stepped in, saying: “I told the bus driver that I was completely appalled that anybody would be treated this way.”

McCoy said the driver then pointed to the couple and said the fact that they were holding hands was what he found appalling.

Sunport, which runs the shuttle busses said it was embarrassed by the driver’s behaviour.

“First and foremost, it’s absolutely unacceptable,” said Sunport spokesperson Dan Jiron. “We immediately got in touch with Standard Parking to assess what exactly happened. They acknowledged this was a mistake on the part of the driver.”

The couple, who say noone has attempted to contact them to issue an apology, have filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The shuttle bus company is now requiring all of its drivers to undergo sensitivity training.