Lord Boothby | Public domain | 14374
The BBC’s Brian Wheeler looks at how the treatment of gay politicians in the UK has developed over the years, while reading a new book.
“Even when a newspaper broke ranks, as the Labour-supporting Sunday Mirror did in 1964 when it exposed (Lord) Boothby’s sexuality and links to the criminal underworld, it often paid a heavy price. The Mirror retracted its story, paid Boothby £40,000 in damages and sacked its editor.”
By the 1980s the “outing” of gay MPs and peers had become a press staple, and the advent of HIV/Aids snuffed out growing signs of tolerance in favour of widespread homophobia, according to Open University lecturer Donna Smith’s new book, Sex, Lies and Politics.
“Suggestions of a gay relationship still bring out the prurient instincts in the tabloids and add an extra frisson to stories about politicians, as can be seen, she argues, from the coverage of David Laws, the Lib Dem cabinet minister forced to reveal his sexuality during a row about his expenses. “Gay politicians who have a positive persona generally are ones who are in a relationship. There is no scandal around their sexuality … They are open about their lives. There is no possibility of them being “outed” because they have pre-empted it.”