Tony Sewell, chair of the education charity Generating Genius, has apologised just hours after being appointed to chair the government’s commission on race and ethnic disparities.
The appointment has been met with scrutiny, as Sewell has previously questioned the idea of institutional racism and admitted making “wrong and offensive” comments about the former footballer, Justin Fashanu, who said he was gay in 1990.
Downing Street announced the commission last month and said Sewell would be its chair yesterday.
In a piece for the Voice newspaper, Sewell wrote: “We heteros are sick and tired of tortured queens playing hide and seek around their closets. Homosexuals are the greatest queer-bashers around. No other group of people are so preoccupied with making their own sexuality look dirty,”.
Yesterday Sewell said: “I am sorry for my comments from 30 years ago which were wrong and offensive. They do not reflect my views today nor indeed the views of modern society. I am committed to championing the cause of equality and diversity across all of our communities, including for LGBT people.”
Sewell is the chair of Generating Genius, a charity which works with BAME children to prepare them for careers in STEM.
In 2010, Sewell wrote in Prospect magazine “much of the supposed evidence of institutional racism is flimsy.”
'Another wasted opportunity for change'
Wanda Wyporska, executive director of the Equality Trust told the Guardian newspaper: “If the establishment wants to get a black person to head something up and align with their thoughts, we know who those people are … And the rest of us just think, ‘Oh no, not again. Another wasted opportunity for change.’
“It’s disappointing. Not just as a black person but as executive director of the Equality Trust, I know that the structural inequalities are undeniable. If you want to say the UK is a totally meritocratic society, then you have to ask why is it that almost everybody at the top happens to be a white, middle-class man, with a few women thrown in?”
'Committed to a national conversation'
Sewell said he is “delighted” to be chairing the new commission, and added: “I have spent my entire career in education striving to help all students achieve their full potential. I know however that inequality exists, and I am committed to working with my fellow commissioners to understand why.
“Together we will set out recommendations for action across government, public bodies and the private sector, and will seek to inform a national conversation about race, led by the evidence.”
Dowing Street has defended the appointment, and the prime minister’s spokesman said Boris Johnson “is confident that Mr Sewell shares his commitment to maximising opportunity for all”.