BREAKING: Pembroke’s New Leading Man

Smith was the first MP to come out as gay and also the first to come out as HIV+ Credits: YouTube

Smith was the first MP to come out as gay and also the first to come out as HIV+ Credits: YouTube

Pembroke College announced today that a new Master has been elected. Lord Smith of Finsbury is set to replace Sir Richard Dearlove come October 2015. Dearlove who has been Pembroke College Master since 2004 will be retiring this summer.

During his time as a student at Pembroke, Lord Smith took a double first in English and his PhD thesis was dedicated to poetry from the romantic era with a focus on Wordsworth and Coleridge. Whilst at the university, Lord Smith was also President of the Cambridge Union Society. He was then later made an Honorary Fellow of Pembroke College in 2004.

However Lord Smith is known in the LGBT+ community for being the first MP to come out as gay in 1984. Whilst there had previously been MPs whose sexuality was an open secret in many circles, even amongst some of their constituents, Lord Smith was the first Member of the Commons to publicly declare his sexuality. Moreover, Lord Smith held on to his parliamentary seat in the 1987 election shortly after his coming out, unlike MPs who had been forcibly outed by the press in the past.

Lord Smith was not afraid of using his position to help other gay people, and indeed his coming out took place at a meeting protesting Rugby local council’s decision to drop a measure banning homophobic employment measures. His speech opened with the words “Good afternoon, I’m Chris Smith, I’m the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury. I’m gay, and so for that matter are about a hundred other members of the House of Commons, but they won’t tell you openly”, earning him a standing ovation from the vast majority of the crowd. Moreover he revealed in a 2013 speech the role he and others played in persuading Tony Blair to repeal Section 28 and equalise the age of consent, two great steps forward made in the early 2000s.

A series of other trailblazing career moves followed, such as becoming Cabinet Member in 1997 as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport under Tony Blair’s New Labour government. However his decision to come out in 2005 as HIV positive, following the Nelson Mandela’s announcement of the death of his son from AIDS, the illness caused by the virus, made him the first MP to acknowledge they are living with the virus. From the 2008, he has been the Chairman of the Environment Agency.

Pembroke College’s decision to appoint Lord Smith as Master, so shortly after World AIDS Day, has been interpreted by some as an exciting indication of the changing attitudes of society towards HIV and a fitting acknowledgement of the great achievements of this man.

Eddie Angel and Hesham Mashhour

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