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July 07, 2000 12:27am
SCOT Section 28 Lawsuit Dropped
Source: News Wire

A conservative lawsuit to defund gay and lesbian and AIDS groups in Scotland under the rubric of Section 28 has been dropped following a hearing July 6. Section 28 (known as Section 2a in Scotland) is a Thatcher-era prohibition against local governments devoting resources to the "promotion of homosexuality" and against the teaching of same-gender couples as "pretend family relationships." When the Christian Institute's lawsuit filed by Glasgow taxpayer Sheena Strain claiming the Glasgow City Council had violated the clause went to court in May, it was already clear that the Scottish Parliament would be voting to repeal the law, as it did by an overwhelming margin last month. But conservative groups in Britain, where Section 28 remains in effect though as yet unenforced, were eager to use the same tactic against other! c! ities. Strain's settlement is being called a "compromise," but the groups which have missed two months of city funding are calling it a victory.

There are several elements to the settlement. The Glasgow City Council has always denied that it violated the clause, and there is still no suggestion that it has. The Council agreed to send letters to the community groups whose funding was challenged and temporarily suspended -- the HIV/AIDS education service PHACE West, the Strathclyde Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Youth Group, the Glasgow Gay and Lesbian Centre, and the West of Scotland Lesbian and Gay Forum -- saying, "You will not spend these monies for the purpose of promoting homosexuality nor shall they be used for the publication of any material which promotes homosexuality." Even those letters will no longer be necessary once the formality of Royal Assent has been obtained for repeal of the law. The Court of Session in Edinburgh ordered Strain to pay the legal costs of both the city and the community groups, which should run the Christian Institute a total of about 7,000-pounds.

The attorney representing the community groups, Mungo Bovey, QC, told the BBC that, "I am utterly delighted that the judge awarded costs against Mrs. Strain and I think that is the proof of the pudding."

Glasgow City Council solicitor David Romano, said outside the court that, "I'm delighted a line has been drawn under this affair and we're also glad it was made clear the Council was not in breach of the law. I'm also very pleased that these organizations have been awarded costs. That will shore up their financial situation and get it back on an even keel." Although the court had declined at the May preliminary hearing to issue an injunction to force the city to defund the groups, the city had agreed to voluntarily suspend their funding until the full case was heard.

PHACE West had been the primary target of the lawsuit for the more than 40,000-pounds grant it received from Glasgow last fiscal year for social work and counseling. Strain had charged some of those funds had gone to the distribution of what her lawsuit called "a pornographic booklet" entitled Gay Sex Now, which she alleged "actively promotes homosexuality as a desirable way of life." The group's chief executive Charlie McMillan told reporters after the hearing that, "We have been vindicated because the letter that was agreed is nothing that we don't do anyway. It was a face-saving exercise."

McMillan was "especially pleased that the judge has awarded costs to the four organizations involved, given that we have been put through hell and back over the past six months. ... It's absolutely outrageous that we've had to go through this process." He noted sarcastically, "I'm sure the Christian Institute will be delighted that this money will be spent very wisely." About two weeks earlier the West of Scotland Alliance, of which PHACE West is a member, publicly called on the Christian Institute to drop its case, and at that time McMillan had said, "We also call on Mrs. Strain and the Christian Institute to donate the money they would have used in proceeding with their Court action to those charities they chose to attack."

Angela Mason, OBE, executive director of the British gay and lesbian advocacy group Stonewall, told the Press Association that, "This is excellent news for Glasgow City Council and the groups involved. It is also good news for councils across England and Wales to whom the Christian Institute has also threatened similar action. It is clear that local authorities should be free to deliver the services they feel are right for the communities they represent."

And in a footnote, gay-friendly Scotland may be showing some scars of the bitter debate over Section 28 repeal. The traditional dance known as the "Gay Gordons" has been slightly renamed for next month's Gordon 2000 celebrations at Huntly Castle arena, RainbowNetwork reports. The Royal Scottish County Dance Association has no indication that the dance was ever labeled any other way. But Gordon 2000 organizer Lyndsay Clark discovered the old Scots word "gey," meaning "excellent," so "Gey Gordons" it shall be.

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