Gay men and women in public life still have to hide their sexuality, former BP executive John Browne writes in the Guardian, and when the accumulated lies and concealed relationships come to light in the form of a scandal, it can be at one a public disaster and a personal blessing.
The biggest problem with concealing your sexuality is walling yourself off from the people closest to you. Keeping secrets is not fair to anyone. It denies friends and family the chance to know who you really are. I realise now that being open about your sexuality is not about pleasing the public. It is about being honest with the people who know you best and love you the most. Looking back, I wish I could have been more truthful with those closest to me, especially to my mother.
I should have realised that leading a double life was also not practical. I thought I could protect my secret as long as I was careful about who I trusted and who I spoke to. But that was unrealistic. People guessed, people knew, and eventually it was only a matter of time before it all had to come out.
Changing the way things are will take time. Our opinions tend to take root in childhood and take a generation to grow through society. Invidious homophobia is much rarer now, but fear of discrimination continues to hold gay people back. As a society that values merit, we should continue to be vigilant against all forms of discrimination – whether in the workplace, in public life or simply in the way we think of and speak to others.
Learning from my own experience I also believe it helps to see gay people in prominent public roles. Coming out is a tough decision, made harder if you are in the public eye. But if being out can give confidence to others to do the same then the positive impact of that decision is multiplied.