Former Labour MP Maureen Colquhoun, the first out lesbian to sit in the House of Commons, has passed away at the age of 92.
The vocal LGBT+ and women’s rights campaigner, who served as Member of Parliament for Northampton North from 1974 to 1979, passed away on Tuesday (2 February).
Labour MP Angela Eagle, who followed in Colquhoun’s footsteps as only the second out lesbian MP, was among those to pay tribute, saying: “This is very sad news. Maureen Colquhoun was a feminist pioneer and paved the way for all those of us who came after her – RIP.”
A vocal feminist, Colquhoun championed women’s rights legislation, campaigned for the decriminalisation of sex work, and argued for the provision of childcare facilities at Labour conference. She was also the first MP to request to be referred to using the honorific “Ms” instead of the then-conventional “Mrs” or “Miss”.
Maureen Colquhoun was a fearless champion of LGBT+ and women’s rights
Shortly after becoming an MP, Colquhoun separated from her husband and began a relationship with Barbara Todd, editor of the lesbian magazine Sappho.
While Colquhoun later stressed that “there was never, not once, ever any attempt to hide our relationship”, her sexuality only became public knowledge in 1976, when the Daily Mail newspaper published a gossip column about the two women moving in together.
The Press Complaints Commission later ruled that the column was “a gross intrusion into privacy and harassment of a serious kind”.
Colquhoun acknowledged her sexuality publicly months later, making clear in an interview with Gay News: “I am gay and proud of it… my sexuality has nothing whatsoever to do with my ability to do the job.”
She later backed the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, calling for a “massive campaign to educate society” about LGBT+ rights.
Politician suffered intolerable discrimination after coming out
Colquhoun’s political career suffered significantly after the Mail column was published, with members of her local Labour Party attempting to deselect her over the scandal and her “obsession with trivialities such as women’s rights”.
Though an intervention by the Labour executive saw her reselected as the candidate for the 1979 general election, she ultimately lost out to the Conservative Antony Marlow amid a large national swing to the Tories under Margaret Thatcher.
Following her defeat, Colquhoun was employed as an aide to other Labour MPs. She later became a member of Hackney Borough Council and later, after she and Barbara Todd moved to the Lake District, served as part of the Lake District’s National Park Authority.
The two women remained together for decades, until Barbara Todd passed away in February 2020.
After her exit from Parliament, it would be nearly two decades until another out lesbian sat in the Commons, with Angela Eagle coming out in 1997.
LGBT+ Labour said: “We are truly sorry to hear about the passing of the UK’s 1st openly lesbian MP, Maureen Colquhoun, who represented Northampton North in the 1970s.
“A champion of women’s rights, she faced a hostile press when she was outed against her will. Her strength will be remembered.”
Trailblazing former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale added: “What an amazing woman Maureen Colquhoun was. We became sort of penpals at the start of the pandemic. I made sure she knew I couldn’t have been me without her. A real unsung trailblazer.”