Ebay has apologised to a lesbian couple from Yorkshire after it banned the sale of Christmas T-shirts featuring innocuous rainbow scarves because they were listed as items of “gay interest”.

Pretty Pink Pearl, an LGBT-friendly clothing merchandiser run by Helen Brearley and Teresa Millward from Meltham, West Yorkshire, chose to sell a collection of Christmas-themed T-shirts on the consumer-to-consumer website.

EBay assured them that they had no problem with the actual items, but the description of the items as being of “gay interest” breached the shopping site’s adult policy.

EBay told Ms Brearley and Ms Millward that they were cracking down on such terms saying: “There has been a trend of adult or fetish themed used clothing items being listed on the site; these items are not a positive reflection on eBay or our member community“. EBay added: “I’d request you to avoid words like ‘Gay Interest, Scally’ in your listings. You item is perfectly fine, you may relist it without such words in your listing”.

But the site now admits it made the wrong decision.

“EBay is a marketplace for everyone and we would never want to discriminate against any customer”, the company said in a statement.

“To keep eBay a great place to shop, our listings have to follow certain rules and accurately describe the item for sale.

“We welcome listings using ‘gay’ as a factual item description, for example ‘gay literature’ or an item with a gay character.”

It added: “We don’t allow use of the term ‘gay’ as a marketing term to imply a sexual aspect to an item, and this listing was mistakenly identified as such by our system. We will contact the seller to put it right.”

Helen Brearley, who runs Pretty Pink Pearl with her partner Teresa Millward, spoke of her horror at the ordeal to the Huffington Post.

“We were devastated. We felt that they were implying that ‘gay’ is synonymous with a dirty word. That gay people would only be interested in fetish items and used clothing, that this is what is implied by gay interest,” she added: “EBay’s response shocked us especially when you can search for the term ‘fetish’ itself and come up with a number of listings and even penis’ printed onto t-shirts and some pretty obvious sexual items.”

In September it was revealed ebay had listed an inflatable “Gay Best Friend” doll as an item available to purchase on its website.

Tesco quickly apologised for appearing to sell the doll on its website – but it is still available to purchase on ebay.