Media entrepreneur and politician
Youngest and first out gay peer
‘I have never been confused about my sexuality. I have been confused about the way I am treated as a result of it.’ Waheed Alli
Waheed Alli, Baron Alli is a media entrepreneur and life peer. His parents are both of Asian heritage, from the Caribbean. His father is Muslim, from Guyana, and his mother Hindu, from Trinidad. Alli himself is Muslim. He has two brothers, one Hindu and one Muslim and their families follow their respective religions. Both religions play a big part in his life.
Alli started work as a junior researcher for a finance magazine and worked his way up in the media business. He then went to work in investment banking and became very wealthy. In the mid-1980s he met Charlie Parsons, who became his partner and his business partner.
Alli and Parsons set up 24 Hour Productions. In 1992 they merged with Bob Geldof’s company to form Planet 24. It became one of the largest TV production companies in the UK. In 1995 Planet 24 made Gaytime TV for the BBC.
Alli became a life peer as Baron Alli of Norbury on 18 July 1998. He was 34 years old. He was the youngest member of the House of Lords and the first openly gay peer in the UK Parliament. Alli had been a member of the Labour Party since his teens. He sits on the Labour benches in the House of Lords. He was young, Asian and from the world of media and entertainment – not a typical peer.
He was determined to make gay rights the centre of his work in the Lords. He supported equalising the age of consent for homosexuals, from 18 to 16. That made it equal to heterosexuals. It was during the debate that he became the first peer ever to speak openly in the House of Lords about being gay. He was a leader in the campaign to repeal Section 28. He promoted an amendment to remove the ban on civil partnerships being conducted on religious premises.
He continues to work and to be involved in politics. He says he wouldn’t be a good full-time politician. He continues to criticise the lack of diversity in the boardrooms of large businesses. When he worked in banking it was hard enough being black – to be openly gay was unacceptable. He is a patron of The Albert Kennedy Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He has appeared many times in the Pink and Pride Power lists.
At one time Alli confided to colleagues about his distress and anger at his treatment in the House of Lords. He felt that other peers believed he didn’t belong. He now says it has been a privilege to see the change in the Lords. The institution that thought being gay was a sickness is now a modern positive place: one that supported gay marriage. He says he is incredibly proud to be a member of their Lordships’ house.