Former BP CEO: Outing 'Best Thing That Ever Happened'
While many major corporations have adopted LGBT-friendly employment policies, the ranks of openly LGBT top executives are thin — but now former BP CEO John Browne is trying to change that.
Browne, a British lord, discusses being gay in the upper echelons of enterprise in his new book, The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out Is Good Business, published in the U.S. last week. He had three reasons for writing the book, he told Salon.
“I wanted to stop anyone from getting to the same position as I’d gotten into,” he said. Running two lives that were very separate. A public life and a private life, keeping sexuality private, when it’s impossible to keep them apart, and they collided with a very big explosion in my case. … Second, is to give people a sense of role models, people who had come out in the business, both well and not so well, to keep it authentic, to give people a chance to identify with people like themselves so that they could gain some confidence.
“And thirdly, a big third, was to write a letter to, primarily, the straight people of the world, the vast majority, in particular CEOs, to say, this has to be gotten right, you have to set the right tone, leaders make a difference. You have to say I want inclusion, particularly of LGBT people, I want to make it a success, I want my companies to be safe places for people to come out.”
The “big explosion” to which Browne refers was his being outed by a former lover whom he’d originally met on an escort website. The man sold the story of his relationship with Browne to the British tabloid press.
Although Browne doesn’t endorse outing, he said it ended up being a good thing for him. “In retrospect, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me … I’m much more relieved,” he told Salon. “I’ve got my own voice, and I feel much better than I did when I was tied up with double lives.”
He also intends to “make up for lost time” by being an activist for LGBT-friendly workplaces and encourage other closeted executives to come out, he said. “What I want to see is a safe place to work, a safe place to come out, and a place where people think it’s just part of their ordinary landscape,” he said.