Lord Browne: Business 'intolerant of homosexuality'

Lord Browne Lord Browne quit as head of BP in 2007 when details of his personal life were revealed

Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, is urging companies to do more to end discrimination against homosexuals.

Speaking at the launch of Connect Out, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network set up by Arup, the engineering and design consultants, he said: "My sense is that the business world remains more intolerant of homosexuality than other worlds such as the legal profession, the media and the visual arts. I am one of a handful of publicly gay people to have run a FTSE 100 company.

"In some industries, the situation is particularly bad. Among the many people I know in private equity, where I now work, fewer than 1% are openly gay."

He therefore wants "leaders in companies, and not just in human resources" to "think about inclusion in every decision they take". He says: "It comes down to a simple maxim - don't do anything that excludes people."

And he feels that change requires "rigorous performance measurement", the establishment of "concrete targets".

Lord Browne, who has never before spoken publicly about sexuality in the workplace, says it can be what he describes as "the smallest things" that can discourage gay people from being open with their colleagues about their sexuality.

"It is things like homophobic jokes that you somehow get used to, but never accept. Or it's the conversational assumptions about spouses and children. Perhaps, even, it's the games of golf at the weekend."

Lord Browne: Being gay in the business world in the 60s was a little grain of personal terror

It was not until the end of his 41-year career at BP that he came out. Looking back on it, he says: "Hiding my sexuality did make me unhappy and, in the end, it didn't work. People guessed, and it was only a matter of time before it came out. I realise now that the people we dealt with certainly knew I was gay. Putin had files on everybody. But at the time I was trapped by the fear of exposure."

He goes on: "In fact I was trapped for most of my adult life, unable to reveal who I was to the world. I led a double-life of secrecy, and of deep isolation, walled off from those closest to me."

Just over five years ago, Lord Browne quit as BP's chief executive in painful and humiliating circumstances. He admitted that he had lied to a court about the circumstances in which he had met a former boyfriend.

He told me, when I interviewed him on Tuesday, that he had got so used to lying about his sexuality that he didn't think through what he was doing when he misled the court.

Lord Browne points out that when he first realised he was gay, in 1960 at boarding school, homosexuality was illegal, though the law was abolished when he went to Cambridge.

He says: "After Cambridge, when I joined BP as a graduate, it was immediately obvious to me that it was unacceptable to be gay in business and most definitely the oil business. It was a very macho and sometimes homophobic environment; I felt I had to conform."

Also, he did not want to upset his Jewish mother, who had been in Auschwitz: "My mother, whom I dearly loved, rejected any discussion of my sexuality. With her background of being persecuted she was sure that the same would happen to me."

Lord Browne believes the UK has a duty to promote sexual and gender equality internationally.

"Homosexuality remains illegal in more than 70 countries. In seven countries, it can carry the death penalty. That injustice is primarily a British export, shipped abroad in the days of the empire. In my view, we should be working overtime to correct it."

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  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    What has the British Empire have to do with homosexuality? Jack, that's what.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.


    That's not true, Homosexuality in Roman times was only accpetable if you were giving, if you were recieving it as considered a great shame, and there was a very strict code for example pedastry was only appropriate. 2 Grown men in a homosexual relation was considered "Sexual Perversion" unless you were "Giving" and it was with a slave, prostitue or people in certain professions

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    In my opinion homosexuality has had too much favour, too much "positive" discrimination and too much coverage.

    If the goal of your average homosexual is to be treated fairly (like everyone else) why can't they just join the queue to be ignored, over taxed and generally shafted by the government... just like everyone else is?

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The main human instinct for prejudice will be that gays are childless males, they "cannot get married and procreate" and are therefore less than 100% participants in furthering the tribe

    Childless females had many problems over the centuries

    In Rome, which had zero issues with sexuality, you could only marry a woman
    You could have sex with anything you fancied but procreation got the top spot

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    A good bit of diversity training soon sorts out these things. Or as I like to call it "Difference Accentuation". Can't remember the last time we had training that accentuated those who aren't gay (or LGBT - another great soundbite) , ethnic, religious or otherwise. Honestly can't remember these groups asking for diversity training either. Surrogate Offended-ism at it's worst.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Why do "one person's" insecurities make this news worthy, particularly when they have misled a court. "My sense is that the business world remains more intolerant of homosexuality", this is clearly a PR agency making a story of nothing. Ever individual should be judged on their abilities, nothing more or less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Hopefully, in the future, people will be judged on the quality of their work, not their sexuality. Watch out MPs!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    ???!! The wests economy in tatters and this is all they can come up with? I am not in favour of negative discrimination but blimey!

    And isn't it time we stopped blaming ALL the worlds ills on the British Empire? Bad things happened inside and outside of the Empire before it, during it and will happen after it until Humanity wipes itself out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    @25. Graphis
    Why do people think I'm gay?
    Perhaps you need to change your image - or come to terms with yourself!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Ian Grace

    'Some cultures are inherently opposed to same sex relationships.'

    Indeed - including Christianity. I can assure you that the CofE, the Catholic Church and various (but not all) protestant churches all oppose same sex relationships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I don't know about the world but in Europe, Homosexuality has always been looked down upon. Pederasty was accpeted at one time in certain areas but two grown men in a intimate relationship has always been seen as inappropriate regardless, the threat of sodomy was even used to taunt enemies in battle (not sure if they carried it out). I think the aversion is more than religious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    28. Rick Munroe
    - Mr Munroe, what a lucky boy your son is to have a Dad like you. You are a credit to him for thinking this through and accepting him. This will make him a confident and happy person, which I am sure any parent would want for their child. Rather than have to live in shame and pretend to be something one is not. I wish you and your family all the best. :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Lord Browne "Homosexuality remains illegal in more than 70 countries. In seven countries, it can carry the death penalty. That injustice is primarily a British export, shipped abroad in the days of the empire. In my view, we should be working overtime to correct it."

    Is Islam a British export? Some cultures are inherently opposed to same sex relationships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I think it's good for any public figure to come out publicly in favour of non-discrimination against gays, even ithough I doubt whether many young people can identify with a chief executive of BP. It's simply unforunate that more key role models in the world of sport particularly don't show such courage, whether they happen to be gay themselves or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    7 Minutes ago

    'That injustice is primarily a British export, shipped abroad in the days of the empire.

    Does he really believe this ? The prejudice is usually religious based from what i see and was there before and after our empire.'

    Absolutely true. If you look at former colonies you will see that the majority still criminalise gay male sex.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    He is quite right. The law may change, but attitudes are hard to shift.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    @9 - why is it anyones concern though? I have straight colleagues, I have gay colleagues, I have a colleague who is bisexual and another who is transgender. What they do with anyone else is fine by me, as long as they all consent to whatever it is. Life is too short to be bothered by this sort of thing. Personally, I find work too demanding to worry about anything else, but that's just me :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Of course, Industry has depended on the pink pound for many years. Music, Clubbing, Fashion, Advertising, Theatre, Arts and entertainment.... Of course the BBC only give us Julian Clary, Larry Grayson, John Inman, Alan Carr and other typecast feminine divas. SO good that Mr Browne is letting the Hetties and their Auntie know that the Pink £ is where its at!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Well said, Mr. Browne.
    Like "Insurrection", I don't really care whether Mr. Browne is a Lord or a roughneck: what he said, he said as a human being.
    I'm 61 and not gay.
    Our only son is 24 and is gay. Accepting this (very unexpected) fact has not been easy for us as parents, nor was it easy for him.
    We heteros should have more empathy & understanding... this issue can suddenly hit close to home.


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