Bus baron funds bigots
By Kevin Ovenden
SCOTTISH BUS tycoon Brian Souter is to bankroll a bigoted campaign to keep the anti-gay Section 28 law on the statute books in Scotland. Souter has raked in millions of pounds in profits by driving rival bus operators to the wall and exploiting thousands of workers. He also owns half of the notorious Virgin rail company along with Richard Branson. Now he is to spend �1 million of his loot to try to stop the Scottish Parliament abolishing a law which discriminates against lesbians and gay men. The Tories introduced Section 28 in 1988. It was designed to stop schools and local councils providing information and advice to gay people, or even discussing sexuality in a rational way.
The law was part of an attempt to smear anyone who argued for equal rights for gay people as a dangerous extremist. Every party in the Scottish Parliament, except the Tories, is pledged to repeal the law. Labour and the Liberals in Westminster say they want to scrap it too. That has left a small number of anti-gay bigots with no option other than to dredge up scare stories about what abolishing Section 28 would mean. Their twisted logic beggars belief.
Cardinal Winning has fronted the campaign to keep Section 28 in Scotland. He claims he is against "unjust forms of discrimination" against gay people (as if some forms of discrimination are just). However, he calls homosexuality "a perversion". This same man thinks that any form of sex which is not aimed at having a baby is disordered. He wants to ban all abortions, including for women who become pregnant through rape.
The Scotland on Sunday newspaper carried a front page story two weeks ago about a study which found that fathers who had come out as gay and then divorced were better parents than heterosexual divorced men. The same newspaper's editorial dismissed the report, calling for children to be raised only in the "traditional" family unit. That rules out not only gay people but millions of single parents as well.
The Labour supporting Daily Record, however, excelled in its bigotry. It reported Souter's �1 million gift to the bigots on page one on Friday of last week. Then its editorial claimed that "well-funded gay pressure groups" were the only people supporting the Scottish Executive's moves to scrap the law. The Daily Record is running a classic scapegoating campaign against lesbians and gay men. It claims that health, education and other services are being run down because time and money are being spent on gay people. This the same lie the Tories used. It encourages people to take their sights off the fat cats, who have gained billions from tax breaks, and the privatisation schemes which have crippled public services.
It tries to get ordinary people to blame one another for problems we all suffer from. It suggests that gay people are somehow separate from the working class. But the vast majority of lesbians and gay men are workers - nurses, bus drivers, warehouse workers, electricians, teachers, office workers, rail workers, firefighters and so on.
Many more people are confident to be open to friends, workmates and family about their sexuality than 12 years ago - despite the introduction of Section 28. That is what the likes of Cardinal Winning and the Daily Record hate. The bigotry they defend ranges from the laughable to the murderous. Drama students in Bristol had to change the script of their Christmas musical last year. Two minor lesbian characters were shown to break up acrimoniously rather than begin a lifelong relationship as the students had intended. "The tutor wasn't homophobic himself. He was just concerned that a happy ending would get us into trouble," explained a 16 year old student. At the other extreme, official homophobia encouraged someone to hate gay people so much that they planted a bomb in a gay pub in central London last summer. New Labour says it opposes anti-gay bigotry. So what is it going to do about Brian Souter?
The government recently appointed him to a taskforce overseeing how councils in Scotland are delivering services. Surely Tony Blair and Scottish first minister Donald Dewar are not going to ditch their talk of an "inclusive society" to keep in with a multi-millionaire who wants to keep children in ignorance and gay people in the closet?