Atlanta City Council member Liliana Bakhtiari, the first queer Muslim to hold elected office in Georgia, has come out as nonmonogamous.
Bakhtiari, a lifelong Atlantan born to immigrant parents, is the second Iranian-American on the council and one of just a handful of nonbinary elected officials or out queer Muslim officials nationwide. They are not only the first nonbinary person on the Atlanta council but the first on any governing body of a major U.S. city.
The councilmember has been with their partner Kris Brown for 10 years and recently spoke exclusively to NBC News about their relationship with Sarah Al-Khayyal.
Bakhtiari said they chose to come out because they wanted to start a family together.
They said that stories like this tend to be scandalous. “But we’re openly showing it and proud of it,” Bakhtiari, 34, told the outlet in a video interview with the outlet. Brown and Al-Khayyal sat on either side of them. “It should be destigmatized. It’s a very valid familial structure that people should embrace.”
Due to their previous work in International crisis relief, the travel made short connections with people easier, Bakhtiari said. They met Brown in 2012 at a bar. Bakhtiari said they were open to Brown about their preference to being nonmonogamous from the start.
“I was like, ‘That’s cool with me,’” Brown told NBC News. “It was the first time that I had been with anyone who didn’t want to be monogamous. For me, it was kind of a relief as well to be like, ‘OK, I don’t have to be this person’s everything all the time. I can be as much of their life as works for us, and we can have this fluidity,’ and I really liked the feeling of that.”
When people would find out that they were nonmonogamous, Bakhtiari said that they would act as if “someone destroyed a fairytale for them.” Those situations, they explained, made them feel like a bad partner, making them feel “that Kris was only doing this for me, that I was keeping them home while I went out to have my cake and eat it, too — all of these things that were very untrue.”
“This is the sort of thing that a political opponent or someone who has some ax to grind might pick up on and twist around and turn into something negative,” Brown said. “We want to claim it upfront, and say this is the best thing about our life.”
Bakhtiari met Al-Khayyal in a virtual support group for nonmonogamous people in 2020.
Al-Khayyal told NBC News that nonmonogamy isn’t only a queer thing: Straight people can also practice nonmonogamy. She said that it’s “a part of this greater unlearning and deprogramming of societal conditioning.”
“Nonmonogamy for me doesn’t have to be having multiple partners,” Al-Khayyal said. “It’s also breaking down the platonic-romantic binary and being able to have these relationships that kind of exist in that gray area.”
A month after Bakhtiari and Al-Khayyal began dating, the three started dating. Due to concerns for their professional careers, the three only told their family and friends.
“There’s absolutely some sacrifices you have to make being with someone who’s in politics,” Al-Khayyal explained. “But they were clear that there would be a day where we could be out, and that was also important for me. I didn’t want to be in a relationship where I was always going to have to be essentially in the closet.”
The three say their relationship has been difficult to keep hidden, but hope that their story can help show what nontraditional families can look like.
“There’s an opportunity for us to kind of shed light on that, and be like, ‘Hey, there are nontraditional families out there,’” Brown shared. “We’re going to grow our family, and we want those kids to also be able to navigate the world how they want to navigate the world.”
NBC News reports that Bakhtiari may be the first elected person in the U.S. to come out as part of a nonmonogamous relationship according to the Victory Institute, a group that supports LGBTQ+ political candidates.
Bakhtiari said they know coming out may affect their political career.
“If people don’t want to re-elect me because I’m in love with two wonderful people and in a happy and healthy relationship that is possibly the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, then I’m good.”