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The Legacy of Maureen Colquhoun

“In some ways being a self-confessed lesbian has ruined my political career”. Maureen Colquhoun, Labour MP for Northampton North 1974-1979 (The Knitting Circle 2001)

During her lifetime, Maureen Colquhoun bravely confronted societal constraints and society’s attitude towards homosexuality.  Maureen became the first openly gay MP in the 1970s, paving way for a future of change, despite the repercussions she knew she would face.  Her legacy continues to empower those around us still today. 

Between 1974 and 1979, Maureen served as MP for Northampton North and was among fewer than 30 female MPs in Parliament at the time. Throughout her short five years in Parliament, Maureen pioneered for rights for women and ferociously campaigned for gender equality, abortion laws, and the protection of sex workers.  In 1975, Maureen told the Commons, “We in parliament, who believe in making life better for women…believe that our aims must be translated into laws, which will be binding not merely on the present government but on future governments.” Shortly after becoming an MP, Maureen began a relationship with Barbara Todd, the editor of Sappho, a lesbian magazine.  Maureen remained open about her relationship with another woman and declared that, “gay relationships were as valid and as entitled to respect as any other relationship.”  However, Maureen soon became subject to tabloid gossip and often became ridiculed by fellow politicians and harassed in public due to her sexuality.  In March 1977, Maureen was deselected by her constituency party, by 23 votes to 18, following her coming out as a lesbian.  She was accused of having an “obsession with trivialities such as women’s rights.”  In January 1978, this vote was overruled, after Maureen successfully appealed to the National Executive Committee.  The Committee agreed that she had been “unfairly dismissed” due to her sexual orientation.  In 1977, Gay News shared that Maureen had stated that her sexuality had “nothing whatever to do with my ability to do my job as an MP.”  Despite this, in the 1979 general election, Maureen lost her to seat to Anthony Marlow.  Ultimately, her political career was dictated by her sexuality.  Following Colquhoun’s removal from Parliament, it was not until 1997 that another person who was openly lesbian sat in the Commons, namely Angela Eagle. 

Maureen passed away earlier this month aged 92.  Her battle with society’s view on sexuality remains an inspiration to us all.  There is no doubt that her open lesbianism contributed to her losing her seat in Parliament, however she never stopped fighting for equality.  In 2017, over 40 years after her political career had ended, she received a letter of apology from the constituency, recognising “the very great contribution” that she made.  We will remember Maureen Colquhoun for the bravery and courage she demonstrated in her struggle for women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Written by: Imogen Copsey

Published by: Louise Dewey

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