The UK’s Queer Youth Network (QYN) in Manchester is calling for a boycott of public transport run by the British-based Stagecoach Group, which has operations throughout the UK – and in the USA and Canada.

The move follows what QYN says are “very serious complaints” against the company which show a lack of support and care by the company for both its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender passengers and its LGBT staff.

Two complaints of homophobia made recently in Scotland detail separate cases of open homophobia directed at a young gay couple in Aberdeen. In addition, a Stagecoach bus driver in Manchester has complained of homophobia in the workplace.

Last October, Mark Craig and Steven Black were, the Sunday Mail in Scotland reported, travelling on a late-night bus from Aberdeen to Old Meldrum when the driver took offence because Mark had his arm around Steven’s shoulder.

“The driver stopped at the side of the road and told us to get off,” Steven told the Sunday Mail’s Bruce Walker. “He told us he would not move the bus unless we got off or sat apart.” Then, earlier this month, the two were making the same journey again:

“The bus arrived at around 11:30,” Mark recalled. “It pulled in to the bus stop as Steven and I were waiting. The bus doors opened slightly and the driver looked at us then looked around him and closed the doors and drove off leaving us standing on the street in the freezing cold.

“It was the same driver that tried to kick us off for hugging in the back of the bus last year,” he claimed.

Josh Minor of the Scottish Queer Youth Network said yesterday that as yet Stagecoach has taken no action in relation to these complaints.

“Queer Youth Network now is now calling upon all young people – and anyone who believes in equality – to completely boycott, where possible, all Stagecoach services until the company has suspended the driver in question, pending a full investigation.”

Scottish Queer Youth Network will be joining protests being planned outside Stagecoach offices by activists, led by the Scottish Socialist Party.

Gay Staff Frightened

In Manchester, a young gay Stagecoach bus driver has also spoken of a “canteen culture” of bigotry and ignorance that is perpetuated and ignored throughout the transport giant’s workplaces.

“The company is stuck in the dark ages, I want to leave but there’s not many jobs driving for other companies as they have wiped them all out,” the 22 year old Manchester bus driver, who has asked not want to be named as he is in fear of losing his job or further harassment at work, told QYN.

“There’s no training about equal opportunities – it’s really hard to be gay and work here [and] I wouldn’t dream of coming out – I’d be crucified.

“There was an ‘out’ lesbian working here for years,” he said. “In the end she just had enough. She had to go on sick leave – that was over a year ago now.”

His complaints to the management about the chauvinistic atmosphere in his depot, and a barrage of daily sexist and homophobic remarks have fallen on deaf ears.

David Henry, director of Queer Youth Network suggests that the reason that Stagecoach’s upper-reaches of management is powerless to act is down to the personal interference of the company’s chairman Brian Souter who is widely known for his evangelical-like ‘anti-gay’ views.

In 2000, Mr. Souter personally bankrolled a campaign in Scotland to retain the notorious anti-gay ‘section 28’ law which prevented and reference to homosexuality in schools run by Local Authorities. Despite putting-in at least a reported £500,000 ($US1 million), Mr. Souter’s campaign failed and the law was repealed.

“Every single day young people from all over Britain make up a sizable portion of Stagecoach’s customer base,” Mr. Henry pointed out. “[They] often have no choice but to use the franchised public transport services.

“Stagecoach’s failure to take action on this matter opens the door wide open for similar incidents in the future. The boycott will continue on all Stagecoach services – mainly buses, coaches, trams and trains.”

He urges passengers to use alternatives where possible until the two young men ho were thrown-off a bus in Scotland receive an apology – and there is an additional commitment from the Stagecoach Group to provide services that are safe and inclusive for all young people.

In a statement to UK Gay News, a spokesperson for the Stagecoach Group said: “[The QYN] statement is an outrageous slur on the integrity and good name of our company and our 30,000 employees, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff who work for us.

“We have a diverse and committed workforce and our policy is very clear: all employees and customers are treated equally and with dignity and respect.

“Some 2.5 million passengers a day trust in us for their bus and rail travel and the number of people travelling with us is growing. They know we are a respected and high-quality transport operator. Our loyal customers are frankly puzzled as to why they should support such a misguided campaign when they know Stagecoach has such a strong commitment to diversity.”

Groups of young people angry at Stagecoach’s continuing silence have already begun ‘hug-in’ protests and are distributing literature informing Stagecoach passengers on it’s recently acquired Manchester Metrolink tram network – and at bus stops along the Oxford Road route in Manchester, Europe’s busiest and most competitive bus corridor with six companies in competition.

“We have a duty as customers and individuals not to tolerate this kind of behaviour from a company entrusted to provide a public service. We shall not rest on this issue until our demands are met,” Mr. Henry added.

The boycott is called for all bus, coach, tram and train services operated by Stagecoach Group. The company also owns 49 per cent of Virgin Trains.

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