Well now you have. Angela Eagle, one of only two out lesbians in the House of Commons (the other one being Margot James, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party), has been appointed to the role of shadow secretary to the treasury. Being a woman, being gay, being out… these are all difficult things in the House. The Independent’s pink list this year contained about a dozen LGBT politicians. And they are gradually increasing in number and prominence, with MPs on both sides of the house getting civil partnerships.
But being openly gay is still not easy. Last month’s survey of the number of LGB people in the UK showed 1.5% of people classifying themselves as LGB, but the massive success of gay dating websites such as Gaydar suggest 6.7% is closer to the real figure. So many people are terrified to admit it to themselves or their families and friends, and this is partly down to a lack of prominent, successful role models, and partly to the fear of a hostile reaction, or simply of being misunderstood and drawing unwanted attention.
This is exactly why it is essential that public figures bite the bullet and come out – no more sham marriages or “landlord” situations, no more reluctant admissions following media scoops, no more “don’t ask don’t tell”. Successful, prominent and respected people declaring themselves to be LGBT really can broaden the public’s perception of what it means to be gay.
The most effective way of changing public opinion is to introduce everyone to a gay person. And if it’s 6.7% of us, that’s already happened to everyone already. They just don’t know it yet. This generation is growing up with equal rights, with gay cabinet ministers and peers, with gay millionaires. We’re the ones who are gonna change things. And if we don’t, we’re the ones who are gonna have to live with it.