Peter Tatchell of OutRage, the gay rights group, said the junior Environment Minister's decision was "brave, positive and commendable." But he told The Independent: "Let us hope that other MPs will now be emboldened to follow suit. There must be about 60 lesbian, gay or bisexual MPs. There are some who hold quite senior positions in all three main parties. Being secretive about their sexuality only adds to the idea that there is something sordid about being gay."
Mr Tatchell explained that he was basing his estimate of parliamentary numbers on research showing that about 10 per cent of the population were lesbian, gay or bisexual - rather than any specific knowledge of the newly- elected Commons.
He said that those who announced their sexuality in the way that Ms Eagle had done helped to make it more acceptable, and removed a lot of the stigma. Those who kept it secret also recognised the increased stress induced by leading a double life.
Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, had shown that no harm was done to political careers. But Mr Tatchell suggested that MPs who feared being individually tormented by tabloid newspapers should group together and sign a Commons motion of support for homosexual equality - as gay MPs.
In a statement about her future yesterday, Ms Eagle said: "Although a new aspect of my life has been made more widely known, I have not changed. I should like to reassure my constituents that I shall be working as hard on their behalf as I have always done."
Merseyside's evening newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, last night reported strong support for the MP's stance.
Councillor Don Prout, chairman of her constituency party, said: "I would not see why the constituency would look unfavourably on her because she has made this information public.
"I am sure that many of them already knew and after all we are in 1997 not 1897."Reuse content