Over this past weekend, Shahmir Sanni was publicly outed as a gay man by former political aide, Stephen Parkinson.
In a statement distributed by the official No. 10 press office, Parkinson revealed that he and Sanni had shared an 18 month ‘personal relationship’. This public disclosure of Sanni’s sexuality was made without his consent.
The severity of this breach of confidence cannot be underestimated. As Sanni wrote in response: ‘This is something I’ve never told most of my friends or family, here or in Pakistan, some of whom are having to take measures to ensure their safety.’
This is something I’ve never told most of my friends or family, here or in Pakistan, some of whom are having to take measures to ensure their safety.
Telling someone about your sexuality or gender identity must always be a personal decision. No person has the right to take that decision away. Publicly outing someone robs that person of the chance to define who they are in their own terms, if they even want to. In extreme cases – as in this one - it can also put the lives of that person and their loved ones in danger.
Outing someone ignores the many valid reasons a person may have for not choosing to be open about their sexuality to every person in their life. Concerns about personal safety to fears about discrimination at work or in their place of worship all play a part in someone’s decision to come out. It can be difficult, takes courage and is not necessarily a one-off event.
It goes without saying that having visible LGBT role models can have a hugely positive impact on lesbian, gay, bi and trans people. But we need to understand and respect why not everyone can be one. Some LGBT people are not out because of a real need to protect themselves. We do not live in a world that is accepting of everyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Not only does the world still have a long way to go, so does Britain, as this irresponsible indiscretion shows.
LGBT people continue to face alarming levels of abuse and discrimination in both their public and private lives in Britain and abroad. One in five LGBT people (21 per cent) have experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months. One in eight trans employees (12 per cent) have been physically attacked by a colleague or customer in the last year. In over half of the world, LGBT people may not be protected from discrimination by workplace law and 72 countries still criminalise same-sex relationships.
The harsh reality of anti-LGBT abuse in Britain and around the world helps explain why some LGBT people may be out to some people in certain contexts, and not in others.
The harsh reality of anti-LGBT abuse in Britain and around the world helps explain why some LGBT people may be out to some people in certain contexts, and not in others. Even within the LGBT community, trans and bi people are exposed to transphobia and biphobia that uniquely impact their experiences of coming out, or not. Offensive myths about bi and trans people, stereotyping and public erasure create additional barriers that may affect their ability and willingness to come out.
What has happened to Shahmir Sanni is inexcusable. Outing someone can put lives at risk. We will always stand with and support all LGBT people, whether they are out or not. No LGBT person should ever have to live in fear that someone might tell the world about their sexuality or gender identity before they are ready. Only that person will know if they are comfortable and ready to come out. That choice and decision must always be respected.