Gordon's desert island nightmare

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The Independent Online
Invitations to appear on Desert Island Discs have always been accepted with great alacrity. How nice it is to be interviewed in your own right, a person deemed to be worthy of paradise, and to invite the listeners into your own "private" world. But such invitations will now be considered with concern after Sue Lawley's grilling of the Shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

As the sea washed over sun-drenched sands, Gordon's paradise quickly became a nightmare. His marital status was uppermost in Sue's mind. Why was he not married, she asked persistently. Straying into the realms of tabloid prurience, Sue overreached her remit. After all, it was not as if Gordon's chosen book had been Kama Sutra. Coupled with preoccupation with Labour's economic plans, it was obvious that this presenter's mind was on the sensational headlines that would follow the discussion and any subsequent revelations. Brown dealt with her questioning admirably.

The wider question still begs to be answered: when is it ever right to question a public figure about their sexuality? In Brown's case, the answer is quite simple. He has never made family values the centrepiece of his political platform. He is an elected politician concerned with the governance of this country: all we ask of him is a clear pair of hands and a good brain.

When a politician seeks to restrict the civil and human rights of a sexual minority, then their sexuality is directly relevant. If Gordon Brown had sought to discriminate against homosexuals in his economic policies, then issues pertaining to his sexuality would be pertinent. Would we countenance, for example, a closeted Secretary of State for the Environment denying lesbians and gay men succession to tenancy rights? I don't think that we could. It would amount to advanced hypocrisy on the part of the politician. Equally, it would be hypocritical if restrictions on the rights of lesbians and gay men to serve in the military were imposed by a Secretary of State for Defence who was homosexual. In these theoretical circumstances, we would be witnessing a politician enjoying the "freedom" of the closet at the expense of those lesbians and gay men who were "out".

Once we have achieved legal equality and social justice for lesbians and gay men, then questions of sexuality will start to become irrelevant. Every one of us can then get on with our lives and we will be able to rid ourselves of the diversion of sexual grouping.

However, for this to happen both Labour and the Conservatives will have to commit themselves to affording equal citizenship to everyone.

The writer is an actor and a former chair of the Stonewall Group, which campaigns for legal equality and social justice for lesbians and gay men.