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."

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."

 
Robert Peston, economics editor Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 67.

    Some of Browne's comments are ridiculous.

    Homophobic jokes are unacceptable, sure. But complaining about 'conversational assumptions about spouses'? What is he saying, that people shouldn't talk about their wives/kids?

    Or playing golf on the weekend... do gays not play golf?

    He needs to get over himself. Most people really don't care as long as their colleagues get the job done.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 66.

    65
    "And when it is the boss doing it?"

    That's what trade unions are for perhaps - one solution anyway.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 65.

    @62. Charles Jurcich
    7 MINUTES AGO
    People in the work place who are thinking alot about somebody else's sexuality (somebody else's business) clearly aren't working very hard. Their boss should be giving them more stuff to do.
    ---
    And when it is the boss doing it?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 64.

    58.Golgotha

    'My instincts tell me it was probably looked down upon before the Empire came anywhere near them.'

    I would ask, then, why is only gay MALE sex criminalised in most former colonies (as was in the UK itself)? If it were down to local attitudes you would expect to see a much wider variation in penal codes.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 63.

    61. Thanks Alan a fair point.

  • rate this
    +30

    Comment number 62.

    People in the work place who are thinking alot about somebody else's sexuality (somebody else's business) clearly aren't working very hard. Their boss should be giving them more stuff to do.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 61.

    59.
    Ian Grace

    '@53 Alan - which Muslim countries in your view are tolerant of homosexuality?'

    Iraq, Jordan, Palestinian West Bank, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan. I'm not saying the situation is brilliant but they are more tolerant than many christian countries.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 60.

    Blimey the homophobia is thinly veiled tonight!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 59.

    @53 Alan - which Muslim countries in your view are tolerant of homosexuality? Homosexual acts go against the very core of Islam, and indeed most religions in my view - a Muslim country tolerant of homosexuality? An oxymoron if ever I have heard one!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 58.

    57.Alan Robinson-Orr

    To be honest I've very little knowledge of African and Caribbean culture pre colonial times, but I highly doubt that homosexuality was considered appropriate. My instincts tell me it was probably looked down upon before the Empire came anywhere near them.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 57.

    54.Golgotha

    'I doubt that.'

    Granted, some, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada have now removed gay male sex as a criminal offence But you only have to look at the Caribbean and Africa to see that what I say is broadly true.

  • rate this
    +62

    Comment number 56.

    53 Alan Robinson-Orr
    "You only have to look at the USA to see that the Church is intergral to many peoples lives,"

    Indeed, and yet the first thing Jesus told us in the New Testament was "don't judge". Christians make the worst Christians.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 55.

    @20.penguin337
    body language betrays us all once you've been on the planet for decades

    I've met plenty of men with effeminate traits who were straight

    @16.Graphis
    Besides, if you're male, over 35, and not wearing a wedding ring, most people assume you're gay anyway.

    only girls wear jewellery :)
    (different people/groups consider different things to be signs of being homosexual)

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 54.

    53.Alan Robinson-Orr

    "'What has the British Empire have to do with homosexuality? Jack, that's what.' It spread intolerance of homosexuality throughout the world."

    I doubt that.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 53.

    47.Scumbagmillionaire

    'What has the British Empire have to do with homosexuality? Jack, that's what.' It spread intolerance of homosexuality throughout the world.

    @49.Ian Grace

    You only have to look at the USA to see that the Church is intergral to many peoples lives, particularly in the mid-west and homophobia is rampant there.

    Equally there are muslim countries that are tolerant.

  • Comment number 52.

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

  • Comment number 51.

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

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 50.

    I think most would consider media and the visual arts are the exception, not the rule, homosexuality is still poorly tolerated in many "worlds" though I don't doubt the business world falls into the less enlightened worlds category

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 49.

    @37 Hi Alan

    Do you not feel that Christianity/Catholicism (institutional homophobia) is completely divorced from some peoples lives in the Western World though, unlike in the Middle East etc. where their Muslim faith is an entrenched part of - and governs - the daily lives of the population? As a gay man I would rather live in the UK rather than Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 48.

    Thanks for your supportive comments, Insurrection.
    I would only add that as a parent, as our son's gayness unfolded, we were completely blind-sided... we saw nothing in his early childhood which should have given us some forewarning.

    So we never know when the very syndrome that we mock/disparage will suddenly emerge among those whom we truly care for: our son, our nephew, our grand-daughter.

 

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