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Fortune 500 Company CEO: Homophobic Workers 'Need to Go'

05/08/2014 12:11 BST | Updated 03/10/2014 10:59 BST

The former head of one of the world's largest companies has called for other CEOs to remove homophobic employees from their workplaces.

John Browne (now Lord Browne) was CEO of BP, a Fortune 500 energy company, from 1995 to 2007. He resigned from this role in the middle of a court case where he had tried unsuccessfully to prevent a UK tabloid newspaper revealing the fact that he is a gay man.

Browne joined BP as an apprentice while still a teenager in the 1960s and had worked his way up to the top job, while remaining in the closet at work all the way through his highly successful business career.

In an exclusive interview for Gay Market News with Darren Cooper of Out Now, Browne talks about what it felt like the night before he resigned from BP, why he chose not to come out, whether he now regrets this, what he thinks of homophobes at work - and what has happened in the years since this secret he had sought to conceal for so very long has become widely-known public knowledge about him.

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In the interview Browne makes clear that he believes change must come from the top and that CEOs need to remove homophobic workers from their workplace: "In every aspect of their work, a chief executive should do nothing which excludes people, and should be uncompromising in expecting the same behaviours from the internal team. If people are being homophobic they need to go, regardless of how good they are in business."

He says that not having any out gay role models at the top of other corporations made it harder for him to come out: "At BP, I did not have an openly gay role model, nor did I have the advantage of looking to another chief executive for precedent. Without a gay role model, I failed to be one for others."

BP is currently ranked 6th in the global Fortune 500 index of largest companies.

When asked why he did not come out at BP, even after making it to the top job, Browne was unforgiving: "I was wrong, and I wish I had been brave enough to come out sooner, particularly during my tenure as chief executive, when I could have had a big impact on others struggling with a hidden life."

No CEO of a Fortune 500 company has yet come out whilst the head of their company. Some current Fortune 500 company CEOs are reported to be gay, but none openly so.

Read more in Lord Browne's Gay Market News interview.

In October 2014, Out Now is to release new research covering the latest workplace findings from its LGBT2020 study. The new "LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case" report provides the first-ever valuations measuring the bottom-line impact on company profits able to be delivered through effective LGBT-inclusionary policies at work.

For pre-release information, contact Out Now. The findings of the new LGBT2020 report will also be featured in a special workshop at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in San Francisco, November 3-6, 2014.