Why this woman decided to come out at the age of 91

Emma Barnett, left, interviewed Barbara Hosking, 91, who just came out. (Photo: Twitter/emmabarnett)
Emma Barnett, left, interviewed Barbara Hosking, 91, who just came out. (Photo: Twitter/emmabarnett)

It’s never too late to declare you’re not straight. And Barbara Hosking, 91, has proven it.

The British woman just came out as a lesbian in her new memoir and on a BBC radio show, and is fast becoming a gay icon as a result.

“I thought, in all honesty, I could hardly write a book about my life without talking about the fact that I’ve been gay,” she told BBC Radios Emma Barnett on Wednesday during a discussion of her new memoir, Exceeding my Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant, which disclosed her sexuality.

“I lead a conventional life, and actually that’s just one part of it,” she said, noting that some people in her life have long known this fact. “And in a way, it’s not that important.”

Interviewer Emma Barnett touted Hosking in a Valentine’s Day tweet about the show, writing, “Legend alert: Tune your radios now to @bbc5live to hear the with & wisdom of Barbara Hosking — who has just come out aged 91, swears by 2 glasses of claret a day & worked for both Wilson & Heath.”

When she was 21, Hosking moved from Cornwall to London to pursue a career in journalism. Instead, she joined the Labour Party press office and went on to work for the civil service as a press officer to prime ministers Edward Heath and Harold Wilson, according to the BBC. She also once considered running to become a member of parliament (MP), and she worked for a TV exec. So it’s safe to say she led an interesting life working in very public positions. Yet she never before felt comfortable enough to come out completely.

Hosking said she was somewhat surprised that people weren’t more clued in. “I just found it surprising that many people didn’t know until they read the book. I don’t know what they thought, perhaps they thought I led a totally loveless life,” she told Civil Service World.

She said her mother and father never knew. “My parents wouldn’t have understood, and they would have been shocked,” she said. “They loved me very much, but my father was very old-fashioned and conventional. My mother would have probably thought it was a difficult, unhappy choice for me to make. Actually, I’ve been very happy. I’ve had a full life.”

She went on to discuss how risky coming out would have been early in her adulthood. “Men had this great, liberating moment when the law changed and they were no longer in danger of being imprisoned or, in earlier days, of being killed,” she explained. “Women have never had that, but it has been extremely difficult because you could be ostracized very easily.” And she was already spending plenty of time fighting for equality: According to the BBC, she battled sexism throughout her career, “fighting for equal pay, and even to be in the room during some meetings.”

She hasn’t been completely in the closet until now, however; she’s been in a relationship for 20 years. “I’ve had a civil partnership with my partner Margaret, who is a good 20 years younger than I am,” she revealed. “And she makes sure that I am sensible, and do sensible things. I’m still inclined to be a bit hasty in the things that I do.”

That certainly can’t be applied to her decision to come out, however — although there is one thing she fears. “I think I’m a little bit in danger of becoming a gay icon!” she said. And if Twitter is any indication, Hosking — who is scheduled to speak in April at the Stonewall Workplace Conference in London — is right.

But the attention is worth it, she said, adding, “I really do enjoy the fact that at my age, I can be totally free with people.”

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