Lord Browne never wanted to go public about being gay. This week, a messy court case outed the BP boss anyway. Why does it seem that we still have a problem with homosexuality in the workplace?
I’ve had several jobs where I’ve had different levels of having to disclose about my sexuality. And right there is my first issue. Straight people don’t have to disclose about their sexuality. Why should I have to disclose about my sexuality in a workplace where the main focus should be my work… not who I happen to sleep with when I get home?
My first job was as a teacher. I came out to the various other people on my course at Goldsmiths. I was training to be a drama teacher at Goldsmith’s for goodness sakes. I remember asking a girl on the open day what the worst thing about the uni was and she answered with a sigh “All the guys are gay” to which I responded “Not so bad for me..” which was met with rolled eyes all round.
The people on my course were very supportive and my boyfriend at the time was supportive of the working environment I found myself in. Beyond students calling tables and chairs and lessons and each other gay, which I always challenged politely but firmly. “No, they’re not gay. Pick another word.”
It wasn’t the student attitudes to sexuality I feared but the teacher’s. I always batted away comments about my sexuality with glib, almost pop star precision. “Why does that matter?” and “Why are you so keen on my sexuality?”. It worked a treat. After a couple of weeks of interest it died down. Other male teachers would go ballistic and rant that they weren’t gay, they had girlfriends, thank you very much. All my good work, down the pan.
I then moved on from teaching (nothing to do with my sexuality… I just hadn’t been prepared enough for the paperwork, back stabbing and evil head teachers) to be artistic director of a theatre company. So far, so gay.
One of the unique challenges of this theatre company was the majority of people who worked for it were evangelical christians. (And that’s something to deal with elsewhere at another point.) I didn’t feel I could come out without ruining my prospect with the actors. They needed to respect me and value my opinion and I didn’t feel I could. So I “inned” myself for a while. Shoved myself on the shelf and ignored questions about girlfriends and dates.
We toured alot with the theatre company and I usually engineered things so I’d be the one in a bedroom alone. I didn’t know if the two other guys in the company would be comfortable sharing with a gay guy so I took the weirdness on myself and made excuses. It usually involved me sleeping with all the props etc and saying I snore badly (I do) and that the boys needed to sleep well. The single time in two years I shared with one of the boys (a result of a coin toss) Tim complained that I sounded like a wheezing dying dog as I slept. (Needless to say I didn’t share again.) When we were touring I never shared my sexuality with any of the people we stayed with. It was quite difficult as there were guys I fancied, people who were interesting and I wanted to keep in touch with but felt that as I hadn’t been 100% honest that they wouldn’t respect me.
Eventually it became too much. The weirdness was turning me inside out, the strained conversations about sexuality (it was around the time Jeffrey John was taking huge amounts of flack from the Church of England), I sat each member of the company down and told them what was going on. It felt like a weight coming off me. I vowed never to lie about my sexuality again. Either in the workplace or the home.
So back to Lord Browne. Should he have resigned? For the lying under oath- of course. For wanting to keep his private life private- no. He comes from an different generation to me, where homosexuality was much more taboo. Consesnual sexual acts between men were illegal until the 90’s.
Things have changed a lot in the country in recent years. Blair has been scouting around for what his legacy will be and I think that rights for Gay people are a fitting and beautiful legacy to this country. Lord Browne seems to have been his own worst enemy in keeping an unnecessary secret.