'Ex-gay' London bus advert 'like a slap in the face'

The banned poster
Image caption The adverts were reportedly booked for two weeks

A proposed bus advert by a Christian group would have been like a "slap in the face" to gay charity Stonewall over an anti-bullying message, the High Court has heard.

Transport for London banned the Core Issues Trust's "ex-gay" advert because it could cause "widespread offence".

It told the court there was a "storm of protest" as news of the advert spread.

TfL said the mayor was aware but denied he influenced the decision, weeks before an election.

The advert, which was to read "Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get over it!" was also paid for by Christian group Anglican Mainstream.

Dr Michael Davidson, co-director of the Core Issues Trust, is asking the court for permission to have a judicial review against TfL's decision to ban the adverts.

'Outrage and disgust'

The trust submitted the advert on 5 April and after being cleared by the Committee for Advertising Practice, TfL was informed about it by advertising company CBS Outdoor on 12 April.

The same day the Guardian newspaper published an article saying the signs would be displayed the following week.

Within hours, hundreds of comments expressing "outrage and disgust" were received by the paper and on social media and TfL also received 37 complaints.

This was "a phenomenal negative response", Nigel Pleming QC, representing TfL, said.

Image caption Mike Davidson, who says he is "ex-gay", argues the ban was unlawful

The decision was made by TfL that evening not to run the advert, he said.

TfL's barrister dismissed the trust's claim the decision, which was made during the run-up to the mayoral election, was taken under political pressure from London Mayor Boris Johnson, who heads the TfL board.

The mayor was "aware" and there was "a lot of political noise and media noise", but it was a decision made by the TfL, not the mayor, Mr Pleming said.

Other leading mayoral candidates also supported and endorsed the decision, he added.

The advert was due to run on 25 buses between 16 and 29 April, days before the mayoral elections on 3 May.

It was specifically meant to counter Stonewall's "anti-bullying" and "acceptance" message of "Some people are gay. Get over it", which was wholly consistent with TfL's advertising policy, he added.

The charity's campaign was widely publicised and supported by the prime minister.

But the Core Issues Trust's message was negative, he said.

"You have got gay acceptance (advert) and a few days later a slap in the face, gay rejection," the barrister said.

'Interpreted as homophobic'

TfL's decision was in compliance with article 10 and stopping the advert was justified as its advertising policy clearly stated it could rule against displaying something that could cause "widespread offence" and the public body also had a positive duty to promote equality, the court heard.

The lawyer said TfL could not simply "ignore" the public response, which was similar to concerns expressed by its bosses.

The trust's advert was "interpreted by many as homophobic" and seemed to imply that sexual orientations could be addressed through therapy, the lawyer said.

Core Issues Trust argues it had as much right as Stonewall to have its viewpoint aired under article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights for freedom of expression.

Paul Diamond, counsel for the group, said as a public body TfL should be impartial but there was "unfettered regulation".

"I don't think there's a right not to be offended," he said. "There is a degree of rough and tumble in our society."

He said TfL made "a lot of effort" to distance the mayor from the "highly charged political decision" and added that TfL made its decision after receiving an email from the mayor's office, the content of which he did not reveal.

Since the news of this advert broke Dr Davidson has faced "considerable hostility", he added.

Judgement has been reserved.

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