Glasgow has halted grants to homosexual groups after a nurse took the issue to the Court of Session

GLASGOW City Council yesterday suspended any further payments to gay and lesbian groups pending a full court hearing on a legal action brought by a nurse who claims her council tax is being spent unlawfully on promoting homosexuality.

A hearing is likely to take place within four to six weeks.

Mrs Sheena Strain maintains the payments are illegal under the Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 which is the subject of a referendum by Stagecoach boss Brian Souter.

Mrs Strain highlighted a number of gay and lesbian organisations in a petition presented yesterday to the Court of Session, in particular one called Phace which she alleges is involved in the distribution of a pornographic booklet, Gay Sex Now, and received a council grant of #140,729 over the last three years.

She alleges Phace, which provides services for people living with HIV, is making available through the booklet, and on the Bi-G-LES (Bisexual-Gay-Lesbian) website, sexually explicit material promoting homosexual acts as exciting.

At a news conference organised by Newcastle-based pressure group the Christian Institute, which is thought to have funded the court action, The Herald was turned away without reason while reporters from two Scottish tabloids were invited to stay.

Mr David Strain, 25, the husband of Sheena Strain and a trainee minister, was at the meeting with a Christian Institute representative.

The Herald understands Mr Strain is the driving force behind the legal moves but as a student believed he could not openly dictate what should be done with public council tax money as he does not pay any.

The gay and lesbian groups targeted by the Strains last night said the action was ''appalling'' and could cost lives if counsellors and support services are lost to the homosexual community.

During the court case, Lord Philip said he wished to make it ''crystal clear'' that although Mrs Strain appeared to have an arguable case, he was not deciding the merits of the case at this stage and detailed argument would have to be heard at a future hearing.

Mr Neil Brailsford, QC, who appeared for Glasgow City Council, said the local authority would argue it had not acted in any way against the law.

Mrs Anne Smith, QC, counsel for Mrs Strain, told Lord Philip her client was seeking a court order banning the council from intentionally promoting homosexuality by supporting activities which encouraged homosexuality among the general public. In particular, she wanted to stop the council providing grants to any organisation involved in promoting homosexuality.

Mrs Smith added: ''I would submit there is a prima facie case that Glasgow City Council have breached section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 in the past and that gives rise to the reasonable apprehension that they will do so in the future.'' (Section 2A is commonly referred to as Section 28 of the 1988 Act).

Mrs Strain, of Allison Street, Govanhill, Glasgow, was aware that there was a Bill before the Scottish Parliament to repeal the law on which her petition was based, but Mrs Smith submitted this was irrelevant.

The law remained in force and there could be no assumption that it would change. Even if it did, contrary to earlier indications, Parliament now proposed to provide a specific power to education authorities to give parents certain rights regarding education on homosexuality.

Mrs Smith said: ''Mrs Strain's position is that as a council tax payer she is very concerned at the prospect of her council spending money on what would be an illegal purpose.

''As a member of the nursing profession, she does not object to council expenditure on the promotion of health but it is her submission that there is clear evidence that what has been done in the past is the promotion of homosexuality and she is apprehensive that that will continue in future.''

Mr Brailsford said that the council's position was that it had given grants to certain gay and lesbian organisations but that these had not contravened the Local Government Act.

He then informed the court of the spending on gay and lesbian organisations that had been approved for the council for the 2000-2001.

Phace had already received one quarter of its grant, as had HIV/Aids Carers and Families, and the West of Scotland Lesbian and Gay Forum had been paid in full. Strathclyde Gay and Lesbian Switchboard had not yet been paid any money.

Mr Brailsford was not in a position to inform the court what conditions attached to the grants but the council would elaborate later. The council would undertake not to make further payments, pending a full hearing.

Last night a Glasgow City Council spokesman said: ''As a purely voluntary measure, we will not be making any grant payments to any gay or lesbian organisations pending the judicial review where we again will rigorously defend our position.''