Today, LGBTQ+ individuals rightly have a presence in every industry and politics is no exception. As a member of a community that has endured a long battle for rights, equality and representation throughout history. You can easily see why the LGBTQ+ would strive for a seat in the House of Commons.
The UK’s Parliament has been labelled ‘The world’s gayest parliament’ since 2015. As of January 2022 there are 59 LGBQ members of parliament, and although ‘T’ is yet to be represented it’s clear that the UK’S parliament is making strides towards equality. Let’s take a look at the ground-breaking LBGTQ+ politicians who made it possible for us to hold that title.
Who was first out?
Chris Smith usually takes the title of ‘first openly gay MP’ after coming out in 1984. However Maureen Colquhoun was in fact the first out MP, whether she came out or was outed is questionable but either way she confirmed her sexuality in 1976. Largely predating Smith. Of course in history there are predecessors, the likes of brothers’ Anthony and Francis Bacon for instance. Both gay and both elected MPS. But we must remember being out and proud back then was unheard of, being ‘out’ led to prosecution. Anthony was charged with sodomy in 1586 and narrowly escaped the punishment which at that time was death at the stake. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in England in 1967.
Maureen Colquhoun was elected Labour MP of Northampton North in February 1974. Throughout her career she fought tirelessly for gender equality and women’s’ rights. So loudly in fact she was given the moniker of ‘Maureen the mouth’ by The Daily Mail. The same newspaper that supposedly outed her, two years later. I say supposedly because many have spoken out to say that Maureen never denied or tried to hide her relationship with Barbara Todd co-editor of lesbian magazine Sappho. Speculation by the press only began after her request to the House of Lords to be called ‘Ms’ instead of ‘Mrs’ by the lord speaker.
Colquhoun was an activist, a feminist and a pioneer in the fight for women’s rights. There’s no doubt her work reflected that, her various bills including the Balance of the Sexes were designed to positively discriminate for women. “To ensure that appointments to the boards of public bodies and corporations, to certain committees, panels and tribunals, and to juries and the House of Lords, shall consist of women and men in equal numbers.” Unfortunately the bill didn’t pass as law.
Deselected By Discrimination
In 1976 Nigel Dempster of The Daily Mail exposed Maureen Colquhoun as a lesbian. After Dempster had contrived an invitation to Maureen and Babs’ housewarming party. The invite featured an image of two women embracing and he ran with it. Even going as far as printing their new address in his headline. Maureen fought back against the invasion of her privacy. However it was ruled the breakdown of her marriage should be known as a matter of public interest. Other tabloids such as The Mirror jumped on the bandwagon and Dempster continued to goad her through his column.
Maureen was consequently deselected in September 1977. The local party chairman Norman Ashby said at the time: “She was elected as a working wife and mother … this business has blackened her image irredeemably”. In response Colquhoun said “My sexuality has nothing whatever to do with my ability to do my job as an MP”. Her deselection was appealed and the National Executive Committee agreed she had been unfairly dismissed for her sexual orientation. Despite their ruling, when the next general election was called in 1979, she sadly lost her seat. Parliament wasn’t quite ready for Maureen Colquhoun, however she certainly warmed the seat for future LGBTQ+ politicians like Angela Eagle.
Chris Smith Labour MP, The Rt. Hon. Lord Smith, Baron of Finsbury, Master. A man of many titles, among those is ‘first openly gay male MP.’ Smith bravely came out in 1984. During a rally against banning gay employees from the town council. Unscripted he introduced himself; “Good afternoon, I’m Chris Smith, I’m the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury and I’m gay.” Which was met by a standing ovation from the crowd. A stark contrast to the reception of Colquhoun’s revelation.
As a politician Smith championed the arts and notably brought back free admission to museums. He served in parliament for over 20 years, stepping down in the 2005 general election. Shortly after he was gazetted the title ‘Baron Smith of Finsbury.’
That same year, Nelson Mandela announced the tragic loss of his son to AIDS. Prompting Chris Smith to make history again, by disclosing his HIV status. Now added to his array of titles was ‘the first gay HIV positive MP’. He revealed he had been living privately with HIV since 1987, not even disclosing his health status to then PM Tony Blair. Mandela’s speech had given him the courage to go public. In the hope that he could help in removing the stigma attached to the HIV Virus. He became the poster boy for ‘The Terrance Higgins Trust’ campaign ‘Life really changed’ the poster read: ‘After I was diagnosed with HIV, my life really changed… I became a Cabinet Minister’. The aim of the campaign was to show the huge progress in treatment for HIV.
The introduction of civil partnerships by the labour government came in on 5th December 2005. In 2006 Smith himself entered into one with his partner of 17 years Dorian Jabri. The two had met when Jabri was part of a delegation to lobby MPs over Clause 28. The clause that made it illegal for local authorities to promote homosexuality. A clause that the government Smith was later part of, abolished. That government also equalized consent. Smith might not have been at the helm of the Labour government but he was most certainly influential, proving that LGBTQ+ politicians impact LGBTQ+ rights.
Out with the Tories
Colquhoun and Smith, we’re both gay, both fought for equality, both…labour party members. So what about the Tories? Well they may have been slightly late to the coming out party but LGBTQ Tories now outnumber their opposition.
The first conservative MP to come out of the closet was Alan Duncan. He was first elected into the House of Commons in the 1992 general election however he didn’t come out of the closet publicly until 2002 via an interview with The Times. It was reported that Duncan like Colquhoun didn’t deliberately hide his sexuality, with The Daily Telegraph publishing ‘The news that Alan Duncan is Gay will come as a surprise only to those who have never met him.’
Duncan was an advocate for gay rights throughout his political career. Even supporting his opposition, by rebelling against his party on voting for equal age of consent. He was also responsible for formulating the Conservatives response to the introduction of civil partnership legislation. Speaking of civil partnerships, Duncan and his partner James Dunseath entered theirs after a 14 month whirlwind romance, in 2008. Making him again the first Tory to do so, much to his own surprise it seems as he says “I never ever imagined that one day I would be a beneficiary of the legislation.”
Cabinet out the closet
Another LGBTQ tory who is titled with ‘the first’ is David Mundell. The then Scottish secretary of state took the LGBTQ+ Politician title of ‘the first openly gay conservative cabinet member in history’ after coming out in 2016. Mundell was praised for making the decision to come out publicly and the news was well received by Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson, unsurprisingly as she is also an LGBTQ+ politician. Labour party members were also welcoming; Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North who is also openly gay, tweeted: “Well done. Still not as easy as it should be, but a lot easier than it once was.” A nod to both progress, and the fact that there’s still more to be made.
Maybe one day, LGBTQ+ politicians won’t have to ‘come out’ or be ‘outed’ and they can just be politicians, regardless of what gender they choose to share their lives with. For now at least, they’re no longer being prosecuted or persecuted for that matter.
Power in Numbers
In terms of titles and firsts for each party (yes, there are more than two) it’s quite a competitive list but quite frankly it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the flood gates have been opened and now for every ‘out’ LGBTQ+ politician speaking in parliament the LGBTQ+ community are not only being represented but are having their rights fought for. There is power in numbers, numbers swing votes and votes swung in the direction can close the steadily shrinking gap in equality.
The real point here is that there should be no individual fights for specific groups. Whether lesbian, Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Transgender, queer, heterosexual… we are all human. So evidently gay rights, women’s rights, Trans rights, are all the same and should simply fall under the human rights umbrella to bring true equality to the UK and its government.