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BBC Scotland's Isabel Fraser reports
"The Scottish Executive says Section 28 is a 'badge of shame'"
 real 28k

SSBA treasurer Alan Smith, followed by Tim Hopkins
Both sides of the argument on Good Morning Scotland
 real 28k

Friday, 14 January, 2000, 14:36 GMT
Millionaire funds anti-gay law campaign

Souter Section 28 campaign montage Mr Souter has said he is not homophobic

Scotland's richest businessman Brian Souter has pledged up to 1m to fight plans to repeal the controversial anti-gay Section 28 law.

The Scottish Executive has unanimously agreed that the law, which forbids the promotion of homosexuality in schools, should be scrapped.

But the boss of the Stagecoach empire has agreed to bankroll a campaign opposing its removal organised by the Scottish School Boards Association (SSBA).

The vast majority of parents, I don't think really understand the potential for risk and harm to their children
Alan Smith, SSBA
Mr Souter, a devoted Christian, was approached by some church groups who are opposed to the abolition attempts being made through a new bill on ethics in public life.

His spokesman David Macauley confirmed he had been approached by a number of churches which showed him local authority-sponsored internet websites allegedly promoting sexual deviancy and boasting of having subscribers as young as 12.

Mr Macauley said: "Mr Souter believes that this is an important issue of democracy. It is not homophobic.

"It is essential that all Scottish parents realised what the implications are of scrapping Clause 28 and the kind of explicit material which could then be forced on their children in the classroom."

'Awful lot of money'

SSBA treasurer Alan Smith said his organisation had been approached within the last few days by representatives of Mr Soutar, offering a donation to the campaign which is launched next week.

Mr Smith said he was "quite surprised "that a figure had been put on the contribution.

"A million pounds seems to be an awful lot of money. It was just yesterday that we started to see a lot of figures - half a million, a million."

Girl pupil writing The SSBA warns children are "at risk"
The money would be used to "highlight what Section 28 was all about". "The vast majority of parents, I don't think really understand the potential for risk and harm to their children."

Mr Smith said the association regarded the repeal of Section 28 as "an issue of democracy".

"Parents and teachers act as protectors of children's rights. We feel we should be allowed to use our democratic right for consultation and debate with Scotland's new 'listening' government.

"We feel that Section 28 should not be repealed but we were never consulted about it. We were told it was going to be repealed and then there would be a review of the guidelines."

Executive 'seeking views'

But Tim Hopkins, from the Lesbian and Gay Network in Scotland, pointed out that the Scottish Executive had been inviting comments on the proposed repeal for two months.

"The executive of the Scottish School Boards Association, a handful of people, have decided to go ahead with this huge and very well-funded campaign," he said.

Glasgow gays in march Gay groups are opposed to Section 28
"They haven't consulted boards across the country before deciding to do it and they haven't listened to expert advice from people like Childline."

Mr Hopkins denied "promoting homosexuality". "We simply want everybody to be treated equally by the law and at the moment the law discriminates against gay people.

"I think the law in Scotland should not be bought by millionaires for a million pounds.

"Mr Soutar is trying to wield disproportionate influence. He is entitled to his opinion like every other individual in Scotland but I hope very much that the executive will decide this issue on merit, not on the amount of money that has been spent."

Church view

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, Ronnie Convery, said it was right to fight the executive's plan.

He added that the bid to banish the anti-gay clause had surfaced from the "politics of the student union".

A Scottish Executive spokesman said that it was well known Mr Souter was a rich man and "could do what he wanted with his money".

But he said ministers unanimously supported the repeal of Section 28 which serves to legitimise intolerance and prejudice.

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See also:
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Schools' gay ban to be lifted
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Anger at gay discrimination comments
31 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Gay promotion ban to be lifted
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Tories change stance in gay row
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10 Dec 98 |  The Company File
Stagecoach steams ahead
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Stagecoach enters Hong Kong

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