Why we need our out LGB MPS

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On the last Satur­day in June last year, I was work­ing on an out­side broad­cast at West­min­ster, one of a horde of jour­nal­ists dis­cussing and dis­sect­ing the UK’S de­ci­sion to leave the EU, just 36 hours be­fore. The lawns out­side the Houses of Par­lia­ment were busy and noisy, with re­porters and cam­era crews from all over the world in­ter­view­ing politi­cians and com­men­ta­tors about the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the vote.

It had been a crazy pe­riod for all our teams, who’d been putting in long hours to re­port the his­toric de­ci­sion. Then, as the day drew on, there was a dif­fer­ent kind of buzz in the dis­tance – be­cause it was Pride week­end in Lon­don, and I could hear cheers and chants from the good-na­tured crowds on the pa­rade. ( When I in­ter­viewed the MP Chris Bryant, we half-jok­ingly ob­served that we should be there with them hav­ing fun, rather than work­ing.)

As I checked so­cial media, one tweet jolted me: it was from the then In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary Jus­tine Green­ing. “To­day’s a good day to say I’m in a happy same-sex re­la­tion­ship. I cam­paigned for Stronger In but some­times you’re bet­ter off out!”

The Con­ser­va­tive MP for Put­ney in­stantly broke through a bar­rier, be­com­ing the first out fe­male cabi­net min­is­ter in this coun­try. I re­mem­ber be­ing so thrilled to read that sim­ple sen­tence. Which­ever party you sup­port, it can only be pos­i­tive to have peo­ple in pub­lic life be­ing hon­est about who they are.

How are teenagers, peo­ple in their 20s, some­times even older (as in my case) go­ing to be able to be com­fort­able with their oth­er­ness if there is no- one show­ing them that their ori­en­ta­tion isn’t a bar­rier to suc­cess, pro­fes­sional achieve­ment, and most im­por­tantly, hap­pi­ness?

I re­cently heard Jus­tine Green­ing, now Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary, talk about her de­ci­sion to come out; she made it clear that the tim­ing of the tweet was care­fully thought through – and paid par­tic­u­lar trib­ute to other gay politi­cians who had paved the way. She was speak­ing at a fundrais­ing din­ner for Stonewall, and it was strik­ing to look around the room and see how many MPS, from all par­ties, are now open about their sex­u­al­ity. It’s another re­minder of how far we’ve come since Labour’s Chris Smith, now Lord Smith, came out in 1984. He be­came the coun­try’s first openly gay Sec­re­tary of State in 1997 – and later that year An­gela Ea­gle came out pub­licly. The Labour MP for Wal­lasey was, for my gen­er­a­tion, ground­break­ing. She was tread­ing a dif­fi­cult path: there hadn’t been a les­bian MP for a very long time – the last be­ing Mau­reen Colquhoun, who was outed by a tabloid news­pa­per and then de­s­e­lected by Labour in the 1970s.

An­gela Ea­gle has said, “I think in pol­i­tics you have to be your­self. It just makes you a bet­ter politi­cian”. True, of course, and that is why ev­ery or­gan­i­sa­tion, ev­ery busi­ness, ben­e­fits from al­low­ing and en­cour­ag­ing their staff to be who they are, be­cause they will, quite sim­ply, per­form bet­ter at work.

But it’s not just about do­ing the job well – it’s also im­por­tant that our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­flect the coun­try as a whole. When laws are passed that af­fect all our lives, shouldn’t ev­ery back­ground and ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence be rep­re­sented among those who are draw­ing up the leg­is­la­tion? It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that over­all fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion re­mains poor – the House of Com­mons is still only 29% fe­male. ( The fig­ure for the Scot­tish par­lia­ment is slightly bet­ter at 35%; the Welsh Assem­bly has the strong­est rep­re­sen­ta­tion, with 42% women AMS). This fig­ure leaves the UK par­lia­ment lag­ging be­hind that of numer­ous other devel­oped coun­tries, in­clud­ing Swe­den, Bel­gium, Ice­land and Ar­gentina. And while we can be up­beat about the strides made by gay men and les­bians, there are still few out bi­sex­ual MPS and no MP is openly trans­gen­der. There is much to be cel­e­brated in our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, but still plenty to do.

It’s strik­ing how many MPS from all par­ties are now out

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