News website Seattlepi.com is claiming that a member of a conservative Christian organization has demanded city officials release membership lists of a gay employees group called the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Friends” organization, as well as copies of sign-in sheets, minutes of the group’s meetings and the city departments that each member belongs to.
This move, whilst regarded as legal, has raised serious questions about what information people should be able to access and a temporary court injunction has stalled the release of any documents whilst members of the gay group file a lawsuit challenging the request. But is this hypocrisy on the part of gay rights groups?
The man making the request is Phillip Irvin, a 58-year-old City Light employee who requested for the documents to be released in early May. As a matter of course, the city’s public-disclosure office notified those people who’s names would be released. Reacting to this, a proportion of those notified sued the city, claiming that the city had a duty to protect their identities under public-records law.
The question of why Mr. Irvin would want access to the information has largely gone unasked, but it is no doubt an issue that Cecilia Cordova, the attorney representing members of the LGBT group, will raise and pursue during the trail.
Faith and Freedom, the organization Mr. Irvin belongs to, an organization that regularly speaks out against homosexuality in America, reports Mr. Irvin has been in contact with them and has given the following reason for requesting the names and departments of the LGBT group’s members:
“Seattle Public Utilities sponsored a “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Friends” employees group which has free use of City e-mail and meeting rooms and most likely even has a city job number to charge their organizational time to. They have even got an all-employees e-mail invitation persuading employees to attend a one-sided forum on a lesbian mother’s child custody issues… There seems to be rank hypocrisy among the gay community. Publishing names and addresses on a website of those who oppose them by signing a petition is fair game but releasing the names of those who use city resources to promote their agenda causes them to howl. Call me a homophobe if you want to, but I don’t think the city should fund a secret gay employees group.” To read the full statement go here.
The website the statement is referring to as a “hypocrisy” is called WhoSigned.org, a Washington based movement that threatens to list the names of those who sign petitions against Referendum 71, 2009′s Domestic Partner Expansion Bill which would give gay couples the same rights and benefits as married couples.
They are partnered to KnowThyNeighbor.org, who have said they will “out” those who signed petitions against gay friendly legislation in states like Florida and Oregon, by publishing them on a searchable public database once the petitioners names were accessible. This has drawn criticism from conservative groups as well as some gay rights groups as a bullying tactic, and in the light of happenings in Seattle does seem to be hypocritical, at least on the surface.
It should be noted that, according to Seattlepi.com, Irvin’s request for the information was made before it was announced that the afformentioned gay groups would start publishing the names of petitioners (something that is, in fact, already accessible).
Representing the city, Attorney Tom Carr has stated that this information should not be open to the public, but that state law, as it stands, allows its release, and any attempt to block that runs contrary to current regulations (Legislature amended information release laws to make them more efficient, but in so doing curtailed the ability of the state to weigh public interest against the data being shared which, no doubt, would have prevented this kind of information being accessed).
Carr told reporters “This is a group of people who have historically been discriminated against and in some cases physically attacked, and I would prefer to protect their names… but my preferences aren’t relevant here, and the law is clear.” He then added, “If the law’s wrong, the people who can change it are in the Legislature.”
That is why objecting in this case is not hypocritical. That is not to say that I condone the recent spate of “outing” websites that have popped up around the internet, because I think they are counterproductive, no matter how they were intended. The founders of Whosigned.org and the like claim the websites are to start a dialogue and to promote transparent action, both of which are worthy causes, but will unfortunately always be interpreted as a bullying tactic by those opposed to gay friendly legislation– something that can only hinder the cause.
But allowing information like the names and office departments of members of LGBT groups is different to publishing the names of those who petition against LGBT friendly legislature. The latter are not likely to be intimidated in the workplace, attacked or worse, for being against LGBT legislation. This is a serious weakness of Seattle’s legislation and needs to be amended quickly, because Carr is right, under current law, there is no reason to stop this information being provided.
The Superior Court Judge John Erlick will begin to hear testimony on the case this week. Hopefully, Seattle legislators will pay attention to this case and make changes that are needed to protect LGBT workers.
What this case demonstrates perfectly however, is that, in the quest for equality and the establishing of civil rights, it is important that, at all times, those who partake in the movement must never stoop to “dirty tactics” or “mud-slinging” but instead concentrate on positive action.
Three Positive Actions You Can Take for Furthering Gay Rights:
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