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The Self-Made Man: Waheed Alli

This past weekend was a bit crazy down here in Baltimore, with Father’s Day, Gay Pride, and the Star Spangled Sailabration taking place at the same time. Suffice it to say that Baltimore’s gay sailor dad population held a special place of honor on the 17th.

Waheed Alli

It did get me thinking about who to feature as a self made man, though, and made me consider that there are gay entrepreneurs whose accomplishments need more press. Even with organizations like StartOut on their side, the accomplishments of gay business owners are overlooked by a larger corporate culture that’s still uncomfortable with openly gay people, sometimes to the point of seeing them more as a potential scandal than as valuable contributors to their respective companies or industries.

Considering the work he’s put into advocating for gay rights, this week’s self made man – British entertainment mogul and House of Lords member Waheed Alli – probably felt that sting at points during his life, too.

Alli was born in Croydon, London, and worked to support his family after his father deserted them. After finishing school, Alli worked as as a junior researcher for a finance magazine, which meant preparing monthly reports for investors. I bet that’s as fun as it sounds! Fun or not, he was good enough at it to bounce around jobs in the financial sector and get rich before meeting Charlie Parsons, who became his lover and business partner soon afterward.

Alli and Parsons started 24 Hour Productions, which became successful due to The Word, a 1990s British TV show whose youth-oriented magazine format and reputation for outrageous content (for example, people bathed in maggots and someone from L7 got naked on the air) made it one of the most talked-about shows in the country. 24 Hour’s success led to a 1992 merger with Bob Geldof’s Planet Pictures to form Planet 24, which became one of the largest TV production companies in the country and gave the world shows like Survivor, for better or worse. He was already wealthy before, but his partnership with Parsons and their myriad business ventures made him rich.

Politically, Alli is a member of the Labor Party (or Labour, if you’re reading this in England), and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair considered him an ally for his role in helping the perpetually out-of-it Blair reach out to younger voters. Alli became the youngest and first openly gay member of Parliament in 1998, and sits on the Labor benches in the House of Lords, which makes it impossible for me to not picture him in one of those awesome barrister’s wigs.

Alli has made it a point to support gay rights from the Labor bench, whatever that is, but didn’t come out to his peers in the government until a heated debate with some conservative opponents brought it out of him. Some called his admission unprofessional under those circumstances, but his speech following the incident was fantastic; he said that “I have never been confused about my sexuality. I have been confused about the way I am treated as a result of it. The only confusion lies in the prejudice shown … and much of it enshrined in the law.” Owned, conservatives.

Waheed Alli is an inspiration because so much of his identity – Asian, Muslim, gay – would ordinarily be a setback in his home country (sorry, England), and yet he rose above those prejudices with hard work, and a certain amount of career flexibility, to become a very successful man. A Baron, in fact. How cool is that?

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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