As an openly gay actress, does she feel this is a burden? “I do feel a responsibility,” she says. “And it has been a conscious choice for me to accept the responsibility. When I took part in Lip Service, I made the decision to talk openly and answer all questions about my sexuality. I don’t want to be part of the problem. I feel good about who I am, and honestly, I’ve never been happier.
“I think I’ve genuinely given a lot of gay girls someone to identify with in the public eye. And yes, I think that gay women always want to know who is genuinely gay.”
Bindel says this is a subject that gay women themselves must address and bring awareness to. “The straight people aren’t going to fight this battle for us. We’ve got to stop excusing those who are privileged enough to be in the closet. These are the worst types of positive examples for young people – unless they have a very good reason not to come out and be proud.
“We have to get in and do our bit. We’ve all got a responsibility. If we’re lucky enough to have a job, a partner’s support, money, social status, and so on, we’ve got a responsibility to advocate and speak about it for the sake of others.
“It’s down to us who have a bit of clout. We owe it to others like us. Otherwise, how on earth do young people find out about what it’s like to be a lesbian? From family? From straight friends? From bigots?”
She also says to conquer the issue, we must acknowledge the influence of feminism. “Women’s rights campaigners, some of whom were lesbians, fought for our rights as females – whether it was the right to access abortion, to vote or the right to express ourselves freely in a relationship, gay or otherwise.”
And Bindel says positive examples of lesbians will help this: “We need people who will say ‘it’s great to be a lesbian’, and not apologise for it. We must say ‘it’s great girls, dip your toe in the water and see how wonderful it is’ – there’s an alternative to the status quo.”
As an MP, James comes under public scrutiny at the best of time, but she maintains that the decision to come out publicly is a difficult one for anybody. “I have sympathy for those in the public eye and those who aren’t who don’t feel able to come out. And I don’t believe in bullying people to come out.”
When asked if she feels like a role model, James says: “I wouldn’t do interviews like this if I didn’t feel a responsibility. My role is very time-consuming, and covers a lot of areas, such as business, health, employment, etc, and a huge part of my job is working in my constituency. But I do make time to speak about issues for the gay community.”
The MoD’s Docking says it’s not just role models that are lacking, it’s the variety within them. “I think young people may wonder whether there are any older lesbians who can act as role models and also whether they are even relevant to their lives. I was speaking to an older lesbian recently, and she did wonder if we were putting boundaries on ourselves and also, when we get older, we become doubly invisible. It’s not just young lesbians who need role models, we need them at every stage of our lives.
“We need them in every walk of life… teachers, nurses, cooks, shop assistants are all lesbians and have legitimate lives. I think the question is why do we want visibility and who needs to be visible – and not just as a young romantic interest in a soap opera to gain viewers.”