Browne: Being gay in business “was simply unacceptable”

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In his first major interview since being ‘outed’ by a Sunday newspaper, former BP CEO Lord Browne has spoken about the difficulties that gay men face in business.

In a wide ranging interview with The Sunday Times, the 61 year old spoke openly about his years in the closet and how he has used his experiences to help others.

“It was obvious to me that it was simply unacceptable to be gay in business, and most definitely the oil business,” he told The Sunday Times.

Commenting the lack of openly gay men in the boardroom he added:

“There are a few in business; Michael Bishop, who ran BMI British Midland, and Charles Allen, who used to run ITV – but there are a lot of people coming through the ranks now for whom the idea of not being out is bizarre.

“I mean, it’s just part of their life – so it’s only a matter of time. I always say to myself, if I’d come out, I could have done more.”

The former chief executive of BP was forced to resign after allegations made by his ex-boyfriend were publicised.

The ‘Mail on Sunday’ newspaper was responsible for exposing that Lord Browne lied in court documents about where he met his former lover, Jeff Chevalier.

In legal proceedings trying to stop Mr Chevalier’s kiss-and-tell story from being published, the peer said in written submissions that they met in Battersea Park.

Since the revelations Lord Browne has been offered a number of high profile positions, including his current position as Chairman of the Tate.

“I was amazingly touched by the support from friends but also the public,” he added.

“It was fantastic! Hundreds and hundreds of letters, and vast numbers from inside BP. Of course, I had a lot of gay men write to me – older gay men with really harrowing accounts… [His voice drops] One who had been caught cottaging by the police which he told me about.

“And I made it my project to answer all of them – which I did. E-mails with e-mails, typed letters with typed letters, handwritten letters with handwritten letters.”

Reflecting on how being ‘outed’ changed his life he concluded:

“One of the gifts of 2007 is that I can be very open. Two parts of me have been joined together, really for the first time. It’s wonderful because it makes me happier and it allows me to have different relationships with people.

“Because it is what it is, and I am who I am, and that makes a very big difference to me, and I’m probably lighter in my step.”