Academy attacked for display of discrimination

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The Independent Online

The Royal Academy is being accused of discrimination after banning members of its Friends organisation from bringing guests of the same sex or unmarried partners to exhibitions free of charge. Friends will still be allowed to bring in spouses free.

The thriving Friends organisation is one of the principal sources of the Royal Academy's money. Its 80,000 members provide one-fifth of all the institution's funding.

The Royal Academy's standard £40 annual fee for Friends has until now allowed members to take one adult guest and up to four children under 16 to view exhibitions and enjoy the comfort of the Friends' room at the Academy's Piccadilly home. Gay supporters of the Academy could bring in partners and heterosexuals could invite theirs, regardless of whether they were married.

But now the Academy has said Friends will have to pay an extra £10 to bring in a guest of the same sex. Heterosexual couples must be married to qualify for the free guest entry.

The Royal Academy says it is implementing new government regulations that allow arts organisations and other charities to claim tax relief through Gift Aid legislation. The Royal Academy is the first arts organisation to bring in the new rules, which will allow it to claim back 28p in every pound it receives from Friends. But the Inland Revenue stipulation is that only family members can be brought in free; and family members are to be limited to a spouse, a parent, a child or a child's spouse.

The Royal Academy's move was condemned last night by prominent artists.

Julian Opie said: "It's ridiculous and groundless. What possible sense does this make apart from trying to increase their revenue. If they are having a Friends programme then it's a matter of what Friends get out of it. It sounds like someone hasn't thought this through."

Gavin Turk, one of the Young British Artists, said: "It doesn't surprise me, but it is silly. I am not married but I have a family. Under this rule I could not take my girlfriend in."

A spokeswoman for the Royal Academy said: "We have taken advantage of the Inland Revenue's new Gift Aid allowances. To take advantage there are slightly different guidelines enforced on us by the Government. If you want to bring a non-family member as a guest you do now have to pay a supplement of £10.

"And, yes, there are implications. There are some specifics that come from the Government as to exactly what a family member means. Currently, under Inland Revenue regulations, a gay partner isn't considered a family member; nor indeed is a sibling.

"We are taking on board every comment we get about this and thinking what to do about it."

An Inland Revenue spokesman said yesterday: "It is true that we define family as husband and wife, not same-sex partners. That's not just our definition, it's the general definition, isn't it?"

Barbara Abrahams, a member of the Royal Academy Friends and keen attender of exhibitions, said yesterday: "A new exhibition of discrimination has been announced. For the first time, an adult guest must be a spouse, parent, child or child's spouse. If I want to invite someone of the same sex and a similar age to myself, I must pay an extra £10.

"When I bring a woman guest to an RA exhibition in future, I will do so under the pretext that she is my long- term lesbian partner. I hope that any attempt to refuse her free entry is an offence under the Equal Opportunities Act."