First lesbian MP to come out
‘If we are to make equality a reality for all LGBT people we have to know and remember the history of discrimination and the struggle to overcome it’
Angela Eagle is a British Labour Party Politician. Eagle was born in Yorkshire, Her father was a print worker and her mother a factory worker. Her father was a trade unionist but didn’t join The Labour Party until she did.
She studied at the University of Oxford. She then worked for the Confederation of British Industry and a health trade union. She was first elected in 1992 as a Member of Parliament for Wallasey in Merseyside. She defeated a Conservative minister and was also the youngest person to enter Parliament at that election.
Eagle came out in September 1997 in an interview with The Observer newspaper. It was four months after the general election. She was 36 years old and newly appointed as a junior minister. She was the first female to come out voluntarily as a British Member of Parliament. The only other ‘out’ lesbian MP before Eagle was Maureen Colquhoun. The Daily Mail outed Colquhoun. She was then de-selected as a Parliamentary candidate by her local constituency because of her sexuality.
Eagle came out because she wanted to move in with her girlfriend and also so she could concentrate on her work. Before she came out Eagle took care to inform her senior colleagues including the Prime Minister. She wanted to be in her constituency, Wallasey, when the article was published. The local media had done interviews through the constituency. They hadn’t found anyone who had a problem with her sexuality. She said this news made her tearful.
At first Eagle found her fame as a pioneer a burden. The media only asked her about coming out. She was happy to talk about it, but not all the time. She is grateful to be seen as a role model. She is ‘quietly proud’ of having blazed a trail for others. She believes it matters that parliament reflects the population. Eagle was aware that many LGBT+ people were not as fortunate. Many did not receive the kind of support she had. In 1997 LGBT+ people had no protection at work and could be sacked for their sexuality.
Eagle has advocated for gay rights and gender equality throughout her career. She has held a number of ministerial and shadow cabinet posts. Eagle was re-elected at the next election. In fact, she has converted a 270 Conservative Party majority in 1992 into a 23,320 Labour Party majority in 2017.
In 2016 bitter battles were fought in her local constituency party. The local constituency party was suspended. One of the more disturbing things that happened was the homophobic abuse directed at Eagle as a lesbian woman. She says we’ve not gone back to 1977 but some on the Left have been as slow as some on the Right to move with the times. She has commented on the increase in hate crimes and intolerance in recent years : ’… we can only rise above that by reasserting our values on the equal dignity of all human beings.’
Voices and Visibility 2019