“There is a prejudice against homosexuals in business”, so says Lord Browne, former head of BP and himself a homosexual, on today’s BBC website. He thinks that the business world is more intolerant of homosexuality than “the legal profession, the media and the visual arts”. He might well have added politics, religious ministry, armed services, many other professions and even the sciences.
Lord Browne is correct. It would be more accurate, however, to say that, in the course of the last century, the large brand-new additional English wave of homosexuality never grew in business as it did in all the other occupations which dominated the establishment. It all started in the early 19th century when the newly arising industrial wealthy sent their boys to the rapidly expanding tranche of relatively expensive private boarding schools where they could acquire the airs and graces of the upper classes. If industrialists themselves weren’t welcome in the highest circles of 19th century England (which they certainly weren’t) then at least their boys would have a chance when they grew up and were “naturally” able to talk and dress appropriately and to be able to understand the menus in top-class restaurants.
What precisely went on in detail in the bedrooms and dormitories of the older schoolboys needn’t be described here. Suffice it to say that, from the boarding schools, the brighter (and often the not so bright) would proceed to university, preferably to the “top” universities of Cambridge and Oxford. By the turn of the 20th century, Cambridge and Oxford Universities were hotbeds of homosexuality among young men. When, finally, these lusty young men left for London (usually) and took up a career, then homosexuality became widely and surreptitiously practised among the highest in the land.
The peak of the additional wave of homosexuality among the upper classes in England was around the 1920/30s. (It was also the case in Germany at that time, mainly among the officer class, and for a similar reason. Bismark had established the first boarding schools in Germany for the sons of army officers during the 19th century.) From then onwards, like all fashions, homosexuality diffused downwards. Pretty well all the 20-class (as I define it for quite different purposes) became more tolerant and thus, inevitably, the practice became legally acceptable.
But not entirely socially acceptable. A homosexual couple walking in the streets daren’t exhibit anywhere near the signs of mutual affection as normal couples do for fear of being spat on or verbally abused. The reason is that, by the time that homosexuality was legalized, the peak of the additional wave had already petered out as it began to lap the upper shores of the 80-class. The normal culture was beginning to reassert itself.
Coming back to Lord Browne (unsurprisingly, ex-Cambridge University!), he is clearly worried that homosexuality among businessmen has never taken on so much as in other sectors. For such an intelligent man he ought to have been more objective and worked out the reason for himself. This is that by far the most businesses are established by entrepreneurs of the 80-class. True, only a very small proportion of these businesses actually grow large enough for their founders to graduate into the 20-class, but there’s sufficient heterosexual ventilation from below to blow away the protective cobwebs that are spun around most other top professions.
More recently, English homosexuals are now making a final heave — that same-sex marriages should be legalized (as is already the case in a dozen other countries). It’s already meeting a big, and probably growing, resistance. Whether the campaign will be successful is a moot point. The declining number of same-sex clubs in our major cities suggests that homosexuality is now on the decline. The BBC is not making it acceptable in comedy shows anywhere near as often as it used to. Although there is still a number of homosexual journalists, newspaper scarcely give the topic any space at all. Most boarding schools — particularly the most expensive — go out of their way to ensure that boys are not deprived of girl company, either in the classroom or in organized social events. Of course, there will always be an irreducible and very low number of homosexuals who have been a constant throughout history but the phenomenal Oxbridge-London fashion of a century ago is now losing its impetus. Homosexual business leaders of tomorrow are likely to be lonelier than Lord Browne is today.