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NORWICH, England (ChurchMilitant.com) - A British bus company has been swamped by a wave of public outrage after it suspended a driver for refusing to drive a vehicle celebrating gay pride.
"I am not driving this bus because it promotes homosexuality," the driver told passengers at Norwich Bus Station. He said they would have to "wait a minute" for him to swap buses.
In a drive to promote gay pride, bus operator Konectbus lit up service numbers on various bus routes, including route 501, in the colors of the gay pride rainbow flag.
Passenger Rebecca Sears, 19, lodged a complaint at the bus station's front desk as the driver moved to another double-decker vehicle and allowed passengers to board.
The sixth form student, who posted a picture of the driver on Twitter, said that he was in his fifties with gray hair.
"Today I was waiting for the 501 bus to Thickthorn and we were told by the driver we had to wait for him to swap buses as 'this bus promotes homosexuality and I refuse to drive it' due to the multicoloured '501' sign. Norwich doesn't appreciate homophobia," she tweeted.
Today I was waiting for the 501 bus to thickthorn and we were told by the driver we had to wait for him to swap buses as “this bus promotes homosexuality and I refuse to drive it” due to the multicoloured “501” sign @nparkandride Norwich doesn’t appreciate homophobia pic.twitter.com/YwDPOT0jeJ— Becca (@becca_sears) August 9, 2019
"I'm aware everyone is entitled to their own views however, if you can't do your job properly because of your bigotry, maybe you need rethink your choices," she wrote.
Konectbus replied to her tweet, saying: "As a company we do not condone any behaviour from our drivers that does not support this view. The driver involved in this incident has been suspended and a full investigation is underway."
2/2 As a company we do not condone any behaviour from our drivers that does not support this view. The driver involved in this incident has been suspended and a full investigation is underway.— Konectbus (@konectbuses) August 13, 2019
However, Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, told Church Militant: "[It] was the bus company who needed to be careful about their own compliance with the Equality Act."
If the driver's objection to the rainbow colours was based on his religious or philosophical beliefs, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against him because of those beliefs. Employers have to be very careful in handling such situations, because in the eyes of the law, discrimination on the grounds of beliefs is just as bad as discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The decision of the Supreme Court in Ashers Bakery case has made it clear that everyone is entitled to refuse to promote a message they disagree with — be that by baking a cake, driving a bus, or in whatever other way. So long as the driver's objection was to the message, not to the messenger, he has not discriminated against anyone and has broken no law.
Meanwhile, CitizenGO has launched an online petition addressed to Jeremy Cooper, managing director of Konectbus, seeking the immediate reinstatement of the driver.
"An increasing number of people are becoming uncomfortable with the corporatisation of the rainbow flag and Pride symbol for a variety of different reasons," the petition observes.
"Pride marches are not family-friendly, they often feature public displays of nakedness and sexual behaviour and celebrate sexual fetishes" and "promote gender ideology which is deeply divisive," it adds.
The petition asks:
Were employees consulted before the re-branding of their buses, or given the option to switch vehicles? Was the driver informed that he would be required to promote LGBT causes on behalf of the company as part of his employment contract? Does this mean that those from religious minorities may not become employees of Konect or their parent company, the Go-Ahead group?
Catholic journalist Caroline Farrow, who is U.K. campaign director for CitizenGO, told Church Militant: "If anyone is intolerant it is the young woman who seeks to see a middle-aged man deprived of his income and publicly humiliated simply for expressing views with which she disagrees."
It is also very concerning that an employee of Konectbuses has suggested that this man's dismissal is a forgone conclusion, meaning that he cannot expect to go through due process. If his direct line manager is gay, as has been suggested clearly, the company is discriminating against religious minorities in allowing one particular ideology to prevail.
The suspension has sparked off a social media blitz against the bus operator and Rebecca Sears.
"Looks like Rebecca Sears, is like, offended at, like anything she hasn't, like read in The Guardian. Well played driver. Time to stop this PC garbage being forced upon us. We are simply not interested," David Fairey tweeted.
"Not everyone wants politics rammed down their throats so stop your childish hissy fits," wrote Richard Addison. Another tweet called Sears "disgusting" with "communist views" for playing "judge and jury on the feelings of a bus driver who refuses to drive a bus with pride colours."
"You are bang out of order, Konectbus. People are quite within their right to have opposite views to your own. Guess that makes you a bigoted company?" tweeted Keith Jones.
When Norwich celebrated a gay pride event on July 27, Norwich Park and Ride owned by Konectbus used its buses to promote the event.
"Hey Norwich! We can't wait to see you today to get you to Norwich Pride! We've dug out our famous coloured numbers again... if you're travelling with us, grab a selfie and send it to us with #ParkandPride!" it announced with a picture of a bus number in gay rainbow colors.