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14 June 2022

How dare the Sydney Morning Herald try to out Rebel Wilson

“We would have asked the same questions if Wilson’s partner had been a man,” the editor of the Herald insisted. Like that's the point.

By Marc Burrows

There’s no hard and fast rules to being an LGBTQ+ person. You do your thing, Miss Thing. That’s the whole point. The only rule I can think of, the one that we don’t write down because fundamentally we all know it, as any decent human should, is that you don’t out someone else. Ever. You let them choose, in their own time and their own way.

Rebel Wilson didn’t get that choice. Her hand was forced. On Friday the Australian actress revealed that she had a girlfriend via an Instagram post, with a caption (“I thought I was searching for a Disney Prince… but maybe what I really needed all this time was a Disney Princess”) that implied this was her first same-sex relationship. Fans were thrilled for her and she was flooded with congratulations. Her smile radiated joy.

It was only later that we learned that Wilson had been approached by the gossip column in the Sydney Morning Herald asking for a comment on her relationship. “I have several sources who have confirmed their status and I have enough detail to publish… I am reaching out to Rebel to see if she will engage,” the Herald’s ‘Private Sydney’ columnist, Andrew Hornery, who is gay himself, told her representatives. Wilson gazumped the paper and outed herself instead. What else could she do?

Astonishingly the Herald chose to double down. Hornery ran a piece expressing actual annoyance that his exclusive had been leap-frogged, and his editor, Bevan Shields, backed him up with a column defending the paper’s right to question celebrities about their relationships. Both pieces have now been removed and Hornery has apologised, but a belated apology and retraction doesn’t undo the damage inflicted by the Herald – nor the fact that they initially didn’t seem to understand what they had done wrong. Shields had insisted that “we would have asked the same questions if Wilson’s partner had been a man”.

It should go without saying that while reporting on a celebrity’s new partner might be fair game, reporting on their first public same-gender partner is another matter entirely. That’s outing them. That’s exposing them to a world still riddled with homophobic hate speech. It is illegal in some countries to love how Wilson is loving.

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Since the Herald doesn’t seem to get it, let’s spell it out. Coming out is a journey, and one with many, many stops. If you don’t fit into this weird definition of “normality” that humans have built and insist on maintaining – if a facet of your lifestyle or identity doesn’t line up to what people expect when they see your gender, your colour, your hair, your features, your partner, whatever – then your life is going to be a long line of coming out moments. We are, all of us, somewhere on a spectrum, somewhere on a journey. We weigh the risks and we tell the people we want to know, at the time we want to tell them, and we do so on our own terms. “Out and proud” is not a binary thing. Sometimes we tell the whole world, all at once, and sometimes it’s every new person we meet, one at a time. Sometimes it’s no one, ever. It’s our choice, and we should never have it taken away from us.

[See also: London Pride 50 years on – where did it all go wrong?]

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