Published on 28 Aug 2010 Sections

Should MPs have the right to keep sexuality secret

As another coalition minister reveals he is gay, Channel 4 News speaks to former government equalities commissioner and now head of Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, about being gay in politics.


Westminster is still digesting the news that a senior government minister has announced that he is “coming to terms with his homosexuality”.

Conservative Crispin Blunt is justice minister with responsibility for prisons and criminal justice.

He is the second coalition minister to be outed – willingly or unwillingly.

The Liberal Democrat David Laws resigned as chief secretary to the Treasury in May after allegations about his expenses – and his private life.

So should ministers have the right to keep their sexuality secret? Or are there valid security reasons requiring politicians in sensitive posts to be completely open about their private lives? Channel 4 News spoke to Ben Summerskill – chief executive of Stonewall – and a former government equality commissioner.

“Categorically people do have a right to keep it secret,” said Mr Summerskill.

“Our view however would be they are likely to be much better politicians if they feel able to speak with the life experience of someone who is gay.

“And of course the reality is if they are also married to someone else, be that a man or a woman, and they are having a relationship outside that marriage, they are clearly at risk anyway if they are straight or gay.”

He said the chance to be open could often help people’s careers.

“Crispin Blunt’s first career was in the army, and in those days he wasn’t allowed to be openly gay and I think that’s very sad,” he said.

“We now work with all the armed services, we work with the employers of five and a half million people actually, and they know that people can perform better when they’re able to be themselves.”

He said it was great there had been, “across middle England, a little bit of a yawn” over the news that Mr Blunt is gay, saying that would not have happened 20 years ago.

“On the other hand, people are still hyper sensitive,” he said, referring to some media outlets which had suggested today that Mr Blunt would be protected from demotion because of his sexuality.

“The worst possible service that the government, or indeed any employer can do to someone who is gay, or black or a woman, is to think they are somehow doing them a favour if they exempt them from normal performance management just like everyone else.”

He said that people in jobs where they handle sensitive information were safest “to be honest from day one.”