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Out in Parliament: Our Conversation with Baroness Barker

We talked career, coming out, trans rights, and the work of the global LGBT rights & HIV/AIDS All Party Parliamentary Groups with Baroness Barker in London.

By MattHaworth · May 13, 2024

Baroness Barker is a powerful advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in the House of Lords, she joined us at Shoosmiths in London for our launch in the capital

Our conversation covered all elements of her  career, the challenges she faced coming out, using her influence and lived experience during a speech on the Same Sex Marriage Bill, the current campaign against gender and LGBT equality & the need for LGBTQ+ people to come together globally to fight it, and her involvement in the all party parliamentary group on HIV/AIDS and sexual health.

We had a truly insightful discussion between Baroness Liz Barker, Liberal Democrat Life Peer and deputy speaker in the House of Lords, and Matt Haworth, co-founder of Pride in Leadership. Baroness Barker shared her personal journey and reflections on LGBTQ+ rights and leadership.

Key points and takeaways:

  1. Progress in LGBTQ+ rights: Baroness Barker recounted how, when she was coming of age in the 1980s, “if you were gay you stayed well and truly closed… nobody in the city or any of the big professions came out.” Gradual progress occurred over decades thanks to the tireless efforts of activists and allies. “It took us 50 years of campaigning to get to partial decriminalisation of homosexuality… and we did it bit by bit.”
  2. The importance of being your authentic self: For many years, Baroness Barker had to keep her sexuality private, especially from her religious mother. After her mother passed, she decided to come out publicly during a pivotal speech on the same-sex marriage act. “Every person who publicly comes out always says the same thing in one way or another it’s like this huge weight gets lifted off your shoulders.” She emphasised, “You can’t be an authentic leader if you can’t be yourself.”
  3. Using privilege and platform to advocate for others: As a member of the House of Lords, Baroness Barker uses her influential position to support LGBTQ+ charities and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK and globally, especially in Commonwealth countries with colonial-era anti-LGBTQ+ laws. “We were a colonial power for hundreds of years and we left a horrible legacy around the Commonwealth… We have a duty to help them to get rid of that burden.” She stressed, “It’s my job to stand up for people who don’t have a voice.”
  4. The backlash against progress: Anti-LGBTQ+ forces, often from religious fundamentalist groups, are increasingly organised and strategic in pushing back against hard-won rights. “They have sat and waited their time, they’ve been very clever, they’ve watched the progress of human rights and they have plotted it and charted it… and inverted it.” The LGBTQ+ community must study their tactics, present a united front, and clearly articulate how these campaigns threaten human rights more broadly.
  5. Lifting up the trans community: The trans community faces particularly virulent attacks and marginalisation. “It is difficult, it is enormously difficult, particularly for our trans brothers and sisters. I think they are in the most horrendous situation.” The LGB+ community must be vocal and consistent in supporting trans rights, educating others, and ensuring trans voices are centred. “Until [trans people] turn up [in Parliament] it’s my job to stand up and speak.”
  6. Connecting LGBTQ+ rights to other social justice issues: LGBTQ+ rights intersect with racial justice, women’s reproductive rights, refugee rights, environmentalism, and economic inequality. “If a woman can’t be in charge of her own reproductive health, she can’t work, she can’t be educated. That’s the really important stuff.” Drawing these connections can build solidarity and momentum for progress.
  7. Engaging across generations: Liz Barker highlighted the importance of engaging with younger generations, both to educate and inspire future advocates. She shared her experiences interacting with students: “I love  doing schools things because they don’t care, they just ask whatever they like.” She also noted the importance of these interactions for continuous advocacy: “The girl just said, ‘Why do you do it?’ I thought, ‘What a bloody good question.'” There is a need for ongoing dialogue with youth to ensure the vitality and relevance of LGBTQ+ advocacy.
  8. Leadership tips: Great leaders have strong awareness of the people around them, tailor their communication to their audience, recognise their own limitations, and empower strong teams. “The really great leaders… have an amazing awareness of the people around them and they don’t think about what they are going to say, they think about what those people are going to hear.” Getting organised, sharing success stories, focusing on solutions, and persevering in the face of setbacks are all critical.

Our conversation emphasised both the immense challenges and reasons for hope in the ongoing fight for full LGBTQ+ equality and dignity. As Baroness Barker states, “We have not only the moral argument, but we’ve also got the economic argument. And when the chips are down, that’s what works.”

Aspiring LGBTQ+ leaders can draw inspiration from pioneers like Baroness Barker and embrace the powerful, necessary work of social change.



Liz Barker is a Liberal Democrat peer and Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords. Liz’s areas of interest include health and social care, equalities, charities and the wider voluntary sector.

Following a distinguished career in voluntary sector, she runs a consultancy ThirdSectorBusiness which brings together corporate and voluntary organisations to set new standards in governance, management and strategic growth. She co-founded Opening Doors, is on the board GiveOut.org, and is patron of akt.

Liz is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health and one of the co-chairs of the APPG on HIV and AIDS which recently threw a party for Sir Elton John.