Lord Browne, the gay former chief executive of oil giant BP, has said the business world is more intolerant of gays than legal, media or arts professions and that Britain must work ‘overtime’ to reverse the criminalisation of homosexuality globally.
At the launch of Connect Out, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender set up by Arup, Lord Browne spoke of the need for employers to “think about inclusion in every decision they make”, the BBC reports.
In 2007, Lord Browne was forced to step down as chief executive of BP after it emerged that he had lied to the High Court about where he met a former lover who was planning to take details of their relationship to the press.
Speaking at the launch, Lord Browne 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 percent are openly gay.”
On being forced to come out after a 41-year career at BP, he told the audience: “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 described living a “double-life of secrecy, and of deep isolation, walled off from those closest to me”.
Stephen Coote, director of the Gay Business Association said today of Lord Browne’s comments: “While there has been huge progress in the UK, around the world there is still severe discrimination against lesbian and gay employees. The Gay Business Association welcomes the efforts of international companies to share best practice in employment policies in parts of the world where gay people can be in fear of their lives.
“In the UK we are encouraged by the success of LGBT staff groups which have helped to change attitudes and highlight discrimination. And GBA members have benefited from working with the organisers of London 2012, who have actively encouraged minority-owned firms to apply for contracts to supply the Olympics.
“However, there is still work to be done in winning the hearts and minds of all management.
Lord Browne told Robert Peston, the BBC’s Business Editor, that he had been so inured to lying about his sexuality that he did not think through lying to the High Court about the circumstances in which he met Jeff Chevalier when trying to keep details of their relationship out of the press.
He said: “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.”
On the criminalisation of homosexuality around the world, he said: “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.”