Gay community is split as controversial talk is cancelled

The cancellation of a speaking engagement in Galashiels by a South African preacher who believes homosexuality can be 'cured' by prayer, has been described as an 'appalling overreaction' by a local gay rights activist.

Pastor Angus Buchan was due to address an audience in the Volunteer Hall next Monday evening as the guest of the Tweedbank-based evangelical Hope Church.

The £5-a-head event was to have been the 69-year-old’s only Scottish appearance on a tour of the UK and Ireland.

But last week, following a plea from the Scottish Borders LGBT Equality Forum, Live Borders, the trust which runs public halls on behalf of Scottish Borders Council, cancelled the booking.

“In line with council policy, we have a responsibility to support the wellbeing of the people in the Borders and not hire out any premises to events with the potential to cause public offence,” said a spokesperson for Live Borders.

“Our booking policy clearly states we have the right to cancel any booking at our discretion.”

The complaint had been lodged by the forum after a national newspaper ran a story in which gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell criticised the visit, claiming: “The idea that gay people need help and can be cured of homosexuality by prayer is lamentable and untrue.”

The article quoted comments made by Pastor Buchan in 2008 in which he reportedly stated: “I cannot ever agree that homosexuality is right ... I cannot bless it.

“I love them, though, but they need help. We have prayed for them and God can change their hearts.”

Welcoming the Live Borders decision to cancel the booking, Susan Hart, chair of the forum, said Pastor Buchan’s views “crossed the line between freedom of speech and hate speech”.

She added: “Our organisation encourages diversity and acceptance. Spreading messages of hate towards LGBT people, women and children can only harm rural communities like ours and cause division.”

But Alastair Lings, the co-ordinator of the Borders Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Group (BBLGG), believes Pastor Buchan should have been allowed to speak.

“I think this is an appalling overreaction,” said Mr Lings. “I am unaware of any quote from Pastor Buchan that indicates he is any more homophobic than, for example, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland.

“Speaking on behalf of my group, we do not believe he will incite hatred against LGBT people or otherwise cause distress to the people of the Borders.

“On this basis he should be allowed to speak. I would encourage LGBT people to listen to what he has to say then challenge him and demonstrate his ignorance of LGBT matters.

“Freedom of speech is vital to our democracy – without it we would never have achieved the LGBT equality we now enjoy.”