By Hugo Greenhalgh
NEW YORK, June 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Straight people have "a lot to learn from gay people," billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson said on the eve of New York's Pride march, saying he would be "absolutely delighted" to have an LGBT+ grandchild.
The businessman, whose Virgin Group conglomerate operates in 35 countries, said private sector businesses like his must help fight for LGBT+ equality around the world.
"Us non-gay people have a lot to learn from the gay community, and we need to embrace it," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on Saturday.
Branson said at age 16 he set up an advisory center to help young gay people meet one another, and it grew to become Heaven, a gay nightclub in London.
"I go back quite a long way when it comes to gay rights," said Branson, 68.
He echoed Britain's Prince William, who said last week that it would be "absolutely fine" if one of his children were LGBT+.
"I would be absolutely delighted if one of my grandchildren turned out to be gay," Branson said on a visit to New York to participate in Virgin-sponsored Pride celebrations.
"The most creative, fun, wonderful people in the world are gay."
The weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in 1969, when patrons of Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar, stood up to police harassment and triggered days of rioting.
Their resistance gave rise to the national and global LGBT+ movement for equal rights.
Business must help tackle such issues such as the fight for rights in Uganda, where being gay can be punishable by life in prison, Branson said.
"We will not trade with Uganda until they get rid of it," he said. "Business should be doing more."
The globe-trotting businessman said he had lunch with the president of Ethiopia, where same-sex relations can carry a penalty of up to 15 years in jail.
"I did my best to try and change his views and failed," Branson said.
Africans who believe homosexuality is a sin "don't realize that you're born gay and your brother, sister, your children could be gay.
"And if we can win them over, then we can get the laws changed."
Branson said he preferred conversation to boycotts but recognized a global boycott of Brunei's state holdings had helped cause the southeast Asian nation's Sultan to impose a moratorium on the imposition of death by stoning for gay sex.
"We obviously had some success with Brunei," he said.
"But, my God, here we are in 2019 and we're having to speak out about stoning gay people. I mean it's just abhorrent."
Branson started Virgin as a mail-order record retailer in 1970. Today, the multinational conglomerate employs some 69,000 people in 35 countries.
The outspoken entrepreneur has a flair for adventure, racing in hot-air balloons and planning to build the world's first commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic. (Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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