An attempt by evangelical Christians to promote “gay cure” therapies on the sides of London buses was banned last night sparking an angry row over free speech.
The adverts were meant to begin running next week and mimicked a recent campaign by the gay-rights group Stonewall which used the strapline “Some people are gay, get over it!”.
Using a similar font and colours, Christian groups had created rival adverts which read: “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!”. Ex-gay and post-gay are terms used by evangelicals to refer to people who, through therapy and prayer, claim to have abandoned their homosexuality.
The adverts were sponsored by Core Issues, a Christian charity which funds “reparative therapy” for gay men and women, and Anglican Mainstream – a socially conservative network that campaigns against greater acceptance of homosexuality within the Church of England.
However when news emerged that the adverts would run, Transport For London banned them arguing that they did not reflect the companies “commitment to a tolerant and inclusive London.” There were reports last night that TfL chiefs acted after London Mayor Boris Johnson personally intervened.
Followinfg the announcement Dr Mike Davidson, Director of Core Issues Trust, accused TfL of censoring their campaign.
"I didn't realise censorship was in place,” he said. “We went through the correct channels and we were encouraged by the bus company to go through their procedures. They okayed it and now it has been pulled."
Padraig Reidy, from Index on Censorship, said that while many might have found the adverts unpleasant, banning them sent out the wrong message.
“There is an increasing rush at the moment by people demanding anything which they find unpleasant should be immediately banned, deleted or removed,” he said. “We’re closing down any trace of controversy or debate within public discourse and that is extremely dangerous.”
The ban will inevitably give Anglican Mainstream and Core Issue’s campaign an immediate publicity drive. Judging the two group’s popular appeal among Christians is difficult. Earlier this year Anglican Mainstream held a conference discussing how to treat gay Christians under the banner: “The lepers among us: Homosexuality and the life of the church”. According to witnesses only 30 people turned up, four of whom were gay activists wanting to hear what was being said.
Nonetheless the groups had enough financial support to run the adverts which would have appeared on bus routes that go past popular sites such as Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.
It is the second time Christian groups have turned to London's transport network. Two years ago a coalition of Christian charities placed rival adverts on buses after atheists began a bus campaign that used the strapline: "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life"
The latest adverts come at a time of increasing awareness of the methods used by evangelicals to “cure” gays of their sexuality. Two years ago undercover journalist Patrick Strudwick published in The Independent his experience of spending a year investigating so-called “conversion therapists”, some of whom operated through the NHS.
Before the ban was announced Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, had responded to the adverts by saying: “It’s sad that any self-styled “Christian” group promotes voodoo “gay cure therapy”, which has been discredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK’s leading professional body for counselling psychotherapists. Life would be much easier if these organisations just admitted that they don’t like gay people.”
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