Lord John Browne: Emerging from the Closet

Lord John Browne
Courtesy: Soft Power Club

People who identify as LGBTQ+ have faced enormous prejudice and discrimination, causing many of them to hide their sexual identity for fear of being rejected or ostracized.

A fear of not being accepted kept Lord John Browne from coming out of the closet for the first 59 years of his life. I sat next to John, then chief executive of British Petroleum (BP) on the Goldman Sachs board for five years. He has a brilliant financial mind and was a superb chair of Goldman’s audit committee, but he never shared he was gay.

As he writes in his poignant book, The Glass Closet:

My refusal to acknowledge my sexual orientation publicly stemmed from a lack of confidence. Inside I concealed deep unease and dealt with inner turmoil almost daily. It is difficult to feel good about yourself when you are embarrassed to show who you actually are. Closeted people cannot fully grasp how much their secret weighs them down, but living a lie is too costly. One’s life should not be built around pleasing the minority of people who may find your sexual orientation objectionable. It should be built around meaningful relationships with people who value you, not what you pretend to be.

While legal barriers against gay people are falling, it is tragic that societal norms have prevented people from being who they are for fear of being rejected. Remarkably, Lord John Browne was the first chief executive of a Fortune 500 company to publicly acknowledge he is gay. Thankfully his openness has encouraged other leaders, like Apple’s Tim Cook, to follow suit.