Transport for London tells Channel 4 News it banned an advert which suggests gay people can be converted to heterosexuality because it was “offensive”.
The advert – “Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it!” – which had been booked to run on five central London bus routes, was proposed by religious groups Core Issues Trust, an Anglican Christian organisation which assists churches “for ministering to those who have issues of homosexuality”, and Anglican Mainstream, a global orthodox Anglican group.
The advert uses the same typeface and black and white lettering on a red background as the current Stonewall campaign, pictured above, which reads “Some people are gay. Get over it!”
Stonewall’s advertising campaign was launched to promote equal marriage, and has been carried by 1,000 London buses.
The controversial adverts were pulled days before the posters were due to be pasted on to London’s buses. Labour mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone said the adverts should never have been booked in the first place, but a spokesperson for Transport for London (TFL) said they had only just been brought to its attention by TFL’s advertising agency, CBS Outdoor.
While CBS Outdoor felt the adverts were acceptable, TFL found they had breached two clauses of their advertising code: firstly that it was “likely to cause widespread or serious offence to members of the public” and secondly that it contained “messages which relate to matters of public controversy and sensitivity”.
TFL’s spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “We have an advertising code over what we are comfortable with. In this case we felt it would be offensive to parts of our customer base.”
“We have decided that it should not run on London’s bus or transport networks. We do not believe that these specific ads are consistent with TFL’s commitment to a tolerant and inclusive London.”
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity Stonewall, whose advert was mimicked, told Channel 4 News: “On balance I think Boris [Johnson, London’s mayor] has probably got it right, but whether the advert of itself should automatically be banned – that’s an argument about context and audience.”
Mr Summerskill argued freedom of speech is a nuanced issue. “It’s a question of balance,” he said. “It’s probably right it shouldn’t be on London’s iconic buses, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be published in, say, the Spectator.”
“If they’re seen in the wider public space, where clearly they do undermine young people who are growing up to be gay, that is a serious issue – the mental health of young gay people is often significantly overlooked,” he added.
The Core Issues Trust has accused TFL of ‘censorship’. Today Anglican Mainstream announced it has instructed lawyers to sue the Mayor of London and CBS Outdoor over the last minute banning of their advert.
The controversy comes in the leadup to London’s mayoral election which will be held on 3 May. Here is a full list of candidates: Siobhan Benita, Independent; Carlos Cortiglia, British National Party; Boris Johnson, Conservative; Jenny Jones, Green; Ken Livingstone, Labour; Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrats; and Lawrence Webb, UK Independence Party/Fresh Choice for London.
According to the British Medical Association, "a significant minority of mental health workers are offering 'conversion therapy' for homosexuality". In 2010, at its annual representative meeting, the BMA ruled that such "therapy" was in fact "discredited and harmful to those 'treated'".
The BMA says that some "conversion therapy" is paid for by the NHS - perhaps as a side-product of GP referrals to psychotherapists - and has called on the Department of Health to investigate and put an end to such funding.
The association has called upon "bodies setting standards for mental health workers to publicly repudiate this 'conversion therapy' and explicitly include stipulations in their codes of practice against these attempts to alter sexual orientation".
Also in 2010, the Royal College of Psychiatrists issued a position statement on sexual orientation making it clear that "homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder".
"There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish," it stated.
The RCP warned, however, that "experiences of discrimination in society and possible rejection by friends, families and others" could lead to "mental health and substance misuse problems".