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Why it’s indefensible that our government outed a man as gay

Yet more proof that Tories have no love for LGBTQ people – they’ll begfriend us for votes when it suits them, then sell us down the river

Last Friday, 10 Downing Street publicly outed someone. That someone is Shahmir Sanni, a young Vote Leave intern-turned-whistleblower. Sanni had teamed up with the Observer to expose illegal campaigning tactics used by Vote Leave during the EU referendum last year.   During his time with the Brexiteers, Sanni apparently engaged in a secret 18-month relationship with Vote Leave official Steven Parkinson, now a powerful advisor to Tory PM Theresa May. In a crude and appalling move to discredit Sanni – and to distance Downing Street from the Vote Leave/Cambridge Analytica clusterfuck – Parkinson chose to out his young ex, using Number 10’s official press office as megaphone. As Sanni’s lawyers pointed out, this marks the “first time a Downing Street official statement has been used to out someone”.

Stonewall were quick to condemn the move. “What has happened to Shahmir Sanni is inexcusable”, the charity said in a statement. “Outing someone can put lives at risk.” On Monday, the young whistleblower broke down in tears in front of press as he explained the damage done. “'He knew I wasn’t out to mum”, Sanni explained, weeping behind his hands as he explained how his Pakistan-based family – now under the scrutiny of the world’s press – have had to take security measures to stay safe.  

It’s totally inconceivable that a Downing Street statement was released without the PM’s approval – which means our PM signed off on publicly, officially outing someone. It’s 2018, and the Tory government are out here smearing gay folk. In parliament this week, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw put it to May directly: “How is it remotely acceptable that when a young whistleblower exposes compelling evidence of law-breaking by the Leave campaign, implicating those at Number 10, instead of addressing the allegations made, issues an official sanctioned statement outing the whistleblower as gay, and thereby putting his family in Pakistan in danger?”

The PM’s response? Deflection and platitudes. “Any statements issued were personal statements,” she replied, shrugging off any culpability. “I recognise that for some, being outed as gay is difficult because of their family... I want to see a world where everybody....doesn't have to worry about such things.”

I strongly doubt this. May has been in politics since the early 80s; her contempt for queer people is long-standing and well-documented. Her views on us were puritanical right up until 2013, when, apropos of nothing, she mysteriously U-turned, announcing she was in favour of gay marriage and adoption. Three years later, she became PM. May is no ally; she’s simply shrewd and self-serving – a true Tory. Because Tories have no love for queer lives. They will begfriend us for votes when it’s politically expedient, and sell us down the river the minute we’re no longer of use.

“We will never be anything but political pawns to the Conservatives – this, despite the gay people in their own ranks”

If May truly wanted a world where “outing” was a redundant concept, there would be serious repercussions for Parkinson. He’d be sacked, and forced to apologise to Sanni. Yet May has made it clear that there will be no penalties for her political secretary. When May says she wants equality for gay people, she means selective equality: gay rights but only on the party’s terms; gay rights for affluent, suburban, assimilationist gays; gay rights for Conservative gays.

Among the housing crisis, NHS crisis, and disability benefits crisis it has created, the Tory party is leaving behind queer people who don't fit their specific mould. LGBTQ people with complex mental health needs are seeing their specialist services starved out of existence by Tory cuts. At-risk LGBTQ immigrants who seek safety in May’s Britain are being detained and deported back to countries where they are in danger because of their sexuality, on chartered flights paid for with our taxes. Brexit is a looming threat to LGBTQ rights. Oh yeah, and there’s the issue of the government pandering to the homophobic DUP.

Last summer, May told PinkNews: “I am proud of the role my Party has played in recent years in advocating a Britain which seeks to end discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity.” But she has nothing to be proud of. We will never be anything but political pawns to the Conservatives – this, despite the gay people in their own ranks. This is why queer people will never vote Tory. We remember the party’s historically hostile stance on our rights. We remember Thatcher, and Section 28. And in years to come we’ll remember what’s happening now, in 2018, to Shahmir Sanni, and to every other queer person fucked over by this government.     

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