‘He knew I wasn’t out to my mum’: Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni breaks down in tears over outing by Theresa May’s aide
Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni broke down in tears during an interview today – as he discussed being outed by Theresa May’s political secretary.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s special adviser Stephen Parkinson came under fire over the weekend after he put out a statement via Downing Street revealing the sexuality of former Brexit campaigner Shahmir Sanni, who had come forward to expose alleged irregularities in the Vote Leave campaign.
Mr Sanni, who volunteered for the supposedly-independent BeLeave group, named Mr Parkinson as one of the Vote Leave officials who secretly guided their campaign in violation of electoral rules.
In his official statement released via Downing Street’s press office, Mr Parkinson hit back by revealing that he had been in a relationship with Mr Sanni at the time, claiming he had only provided advice to him as his boyfriend.
Mr Sanni says the public revelation has forced him to come out to his family in Pakistan, where homosexuality is illegal and strongly taboo – and has left his relatives living in fear of their safety.
Speaking at the Frontline Club this evening, a distraught Mr Sanni broke down in tears while discussing what had happened to him.
Recalling first seeing the statement on an obscure blog, he said: “People were tweeting about this blog [by Dominic Cummings, former Vote Leave boss]. I went through this blog, this 8000 word blog, and then I came across this statement… that’s when I started panicking.
“I thought, ‘it’s only Dominic Cummings’ blog, no-one reads that’, so I was mildly panicked. I never thought it would actually happen – I thought, they wouldn’t stoop that low.
“It was late in the evening that same day, when the New York Times called me and said, can you comment on this statement we’ve been sent by Number 10?
“I said, ‘what are you talking about?’ and they said, ‘allegations about you being in a relationship with Stephen Parkinson’.
“That’s when my heart dropped. I said, okay, fine. We asked the New York Times to forward the email, and it literally was from a Number 10 email with ‘Statement – official’ and ‘here’s the quote’.”
“It was f**king s**t. I came out to my mum the day before yesterday.”
He added: “I hate talking about it, because I get…”, before briefly becoming too distraught to continue speaking.
Fighting back tears, Mr Sanni continued: “He knew… he knew that I wasn’t out to my mum.”
The whistleblower added: “Sorry, I’m being a drama queen. This wasn’t supposed to happen!”
He soldiered on: “This is how low they will stoop. It’s not relevant. How is my relationship with Stephen Parkinson relevant to the stuff that I am talking about?
“This is now what all the publications are talking about, it doesn’t matter from what side. There’s homophobic vitriol, [citing a report from a right-wing outlet] ‘oh, he was at a gay event [while in the closet], he went to an LGBT event!’
“The Prime Minister was there, is the Prime Minister gay as well? There is a thing called being a straight ally, and that’s what I proudly called myself up until now, because it protected me as well as my family.
“Number 10 – it wasn’t just Stephen Parkinson, it was Number 10, Stephen Parkinson and Dominic Cummings, have stripped me of what was the most important conversation for me to have with my mother and my sisters and my family.
“Now Pakistani news is reporting on it, the whole world is reporting on it, because Number 10 [was involved].”
Asked about potential consequences in Pakistan, he said: “I don’t even want to think about it.”
Of coming out to his family, he added: “I came out to my mum, and she said, ‘Shahmir, I love you no matter what, they’re just doing it to shut you up, don’t stop’. I was like, ‘thanks mum’.”
Theresa May faced anger in Parliament earlier today as she refused to condemn Mr Parkinson’s actions, and claimed the message circulated by Downing Street was actually a “personal statement” from the adviser – drawing cries of “disgrace” from Labour MPs.
Responding to a question from Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, she said: “Any statements issued were personal statements… they were personal statements… they were personal statements that were issued.
“I of course recognise the importance of ensuring that we do recognise that for some, being outed as gay is difficult because of their family and circumstances. What I want to see is a world where everyone is able to be confident in their sexuality and doesn’t have to worry about such things.”
She added: “My political secretary does a very good job as my political secretary.”
MPs heckled the PM repeatedly as she claimed the message was “personal”, pointing out that it had been circulated via email by Kirsty Buchanan, Downing Street’s Head of Broadcast media, from an official Downing Street email address.
There was no suggestion on the email that it was not an official communication from Downing Street’s press office.
A group of 13 LGBT MPs have meanwhile signed a letter demanding action from Mrs May.
The group, which includes Angela Eagle, Chris Bryant and Stephen Doughty, wrote: “It is despicable for the office of Prime Minister to launch a vindictive personal attack this way, and unacceptable for your office to out people in an attempt to discredit them.
“The statement was an abuse of power against a vulnerable young man and his family, and it demeans your office.
“We call on you to apologise to the young man in question and to sack the member of your staff responsible for this serious abuse of privileged position they hold.”
LGBT rights organisation Stonewall has also branded the breach of privacy “inexcusable” and dangerous.
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It said: “This public disclosure of Sanni’s sexuality was made without his consent. The severity of this breach of confidence cannot be underestimated.
“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.
“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.”