Ben Summerskill: Pink, proud – and now recognised with posh gongs

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Being made a Companion of Honour, as Sir Ian McKellen was earlier this year, is a bit like having a bidet installed. Most people can't quite explain what it's all about. But they know it's dead posh.

Alongside the Oscar nominee as a gay knight of the realm now sits the founder of BMI and the chairman of the Local Government Association. It's a touching acknowledgement by Britain's honours system that perhaps gongs shouldn't only go to homosexuals when they're entertainers. And it's also an indication of how gay people are – gradually – becoming part of Britain's cultural mainstream.

The past five years has seen growing public acceptance of Britain's 3.6 million lesbians and gay men. It may well have been caused by the normalising effect of civil partnership. Millions now acknowledge that the dull domesticity of so many isn't a monopoly of heterosexuality. But it's difficult to regard your gay uncle as entirely odd if he enjoys exactly the same warm Cava, tastelessly tiered fruitcake and dodgy disco on his special day as your straight aunt.

Debating the decriminalisation of homosexuality four decades ago, Lord Montgomery of Alamein told the House of Lords that no homosexual had ever served under him during the war. The old soldier must be twitching in his celestial mess. Forty years on, openly gay soldiers will next month march in London's Pride parade for the first time in full uniform.

These are ordinary men and women doing an extraordinary job. Many have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if you're expected to lay down your life at work, whatever you might think of the cause, it's nice to have your innate difference acknowledged by your employer.

Such changes, some incremental and some massive, are marked by the visibility of more lesbian and gay people in the public domain. Yet despite the progress demonstrated vividly by this year's Pink List, there remains a pink plateau in many careers too. Not one FTSE 100 company, major university, local authority or government department has an openly gay boss in 2008.

In the Lords, there is no Conservative, Liberal Democrat or crossbench peer able to inform debate with the lived experience of being openly gay in modern Britain.

And some ordinary lives remain blighted by prejudice too. Research soon to be published by Stonewall will show disturbing levels of hate crime being committed against gay people. That residual prejudice still needs to be tackled.

But it's unthinkable that 20, or even perhaps 10 years ago a home secretary would have welcomed the research and promised to take action, as Jacqui Smith will do on Thursday. If the news is reported on the Today programme, it may be read by one of the most glistening stars in the Pink List's constellation. Britain's establishment – from the Archbishop of Westminster to the Duke of Edinburgh – now wakes up with Evan Davis in the morning. And he's unembarrassedly gay.

If he stays at Today, the BBC's former economics editor will no doubt turn into the national treasure he deserves to become. Meanwhile, what better retort to fuddy-duddy folk could there be than radio critics suggesting, as some have, that Davis might – whisper it softly – actually be rather better at it all than some of his harrumphing heterosexual colleagues?

Ben Summerskill is chief executive of Stonewall

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