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Video: Publishing names -- 'know' or no ?

by Jeremy Hooper

You know the KnowTheyNeighbor strategy of publishing the names and addresses of those who sign petitions against gay rights? Well that tactic has been extended to Florida, where thousands of Sunshine State residents recently sign a petition in favor of a proposed constitutional ban on gay couples' freedom to marry. Here are two pieces addressing the controversy:

On one hand, you should be willing to justify your actions if you are going to be so bold as to encourage discrimination for a sect of the population. On another hand, nobody deserves to be harassed for their political endeavors. So while we humans like to boil situations like this down to right vs. wrong, this would seem to be more complex. There are undeniably sensitive privacy issues here, as well as some worthwhile political components (at least from our pro-gay perspective).

Our solution: STOP WITH THESE ANTI-GAY PETITIONS IN THE FIRST PLACE!! Their complete lack of merit is the one thing not up for debate!

KnowThyNeighbor Florida on CNN [YouTube]
Anti-Gay Names Posted in Florida [YouTube]
(H/t: Towle)

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Your thoughts

Out of curiosity, wouldn't the petitions (and thefore the names and addresses affixed to them) be a matter of public record anyway?

I certainly don't endorse harassment, but it seems to me that if you're putting yourself on public record, you don't have a leg to stand on to complain if the public takes notice.

Posted by: Jarred | Feb 13, 2008 2:05:13 PM

Yea, they are a matter of public record, which is certainly one line used on the side of justification. And I do agree that you should be able to justify your contribution if you choose to sign such a petition.

The argument on the other side is that by publishing them in this manner, it can be viewed as encouraging harassment.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 13, 2008 2:44:41 PM

Sorry Jeremy, you are completely wrong in your comment that "There are undeniably sensitive privacy issues here..."

As the previous commenter quite correctly noted, the information is already part of public record. All that the KnowThyNeighbor.org site does is make that public information more easily accessible.

This same discussion came up in the comment thread on a post where I advocated building the same kind of resource for Washington State on my blog.

One commenter objected that petition signers had some right to privacy. Here's part of my response:

"I agree that people do indeed have a right to vote a certain way and in no way do I propose interfering with that right or the integrity and privacy of the secret ballot.

However, signing a petition to get an initiative on the ballot is an act of advocacy and is not a vote in any sense of the word. Once a ballot or referendum petition is certified by the Elections Division at the Secretary of State, it is already considered part of the public record. It is the signature information on this already public petition that I was proposing needs to be made discoverable.

The act of signing a petition that will inevitably become part of the public record means that petition signers have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

If the initiatives and referendum are certified and make their way onto the ballot in the next state election, the people who subsequently vote for them in a secret ballot have every reasonable expectation of privacy.

Advocating a change to existing legislation is a serious thing and requires careful consideration before standing up as an advocate. If people are unwilling to have their signature information in the public record they must decline to sign any petition presented to them.

Fairness and equality are just causes. How do we serve them by staying silent? Those who actively and publicly advocate for discrimination and inequality in Washington State by signing petitions are already in the public record. I propose just that we improve the discoverability of that public record.

If history teaches us anything, it is that it is easier to see wrong done in secret, than in the light of day."

(Here is the post and comment thread for your review: http://gaycurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2006/01/know-thy-washington-neighbor.html)

There is no controversy here, only ignorance of the petition process and an attempt by opponents of equality to conflate public acts of advocacy (initiative petition signing) with private acts (voting on the initiative once it is certified) to provide a shield for their actions.

Your acceptance of the premise that there is a privacy issue at stake is incorrect.

Please reconsider your position as it isn't supported by the facts.


Posted by: The Gay Curmudgeon | Feb 13, 2008 3:17:08 PM

And on the subject of harassment from my response to the same commenter:

"'Q.How do you know that no harrassment (sic) or violent acts will be perpetrated against those people as a result of their identities being revealed?'

A. You ask a fair question. They have the same assurance that anyone ever has that no violent acts will be perpetrated against them. That is to say none, except that such acts would be illegal, unjust and uncivil.

Sadly, people perceived to be gays, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are singled out and live with discrimination, violent acts and fear every day.

I find your allusion that people who are for fairness and equality would harass those advocating for discrimination and inequality, both historically unfounded and highly improbable.

'Q.You're not ever going to sway the minds of those who disagree with you to your cause if you're going to use methods that put people's well-being and lives in danger.'

Up to now there has been no discussion of any methods at all. Your leap to lives being in danger is, if I may say, pure hyperbole. Let me set your mind at rest.

My intention in opposing injustice and inequality is to follow the difficult footsteps laid by Mohandas Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe in non-violent confrontation of inequality and injustice with simple but unyielding truth.

Once the petitions are certified, the truth will already be out. I’m simply proposing we turn on the light. And that is all I have proposed.

'Q.There are correct methods of sharing your dissent, and incorrect methods. Posting the names and addresses of people who are simply using their right to express their views and choices without having to fear for their safety is just plain wrong.'

A. There are also correct methods of legislating in the area of minority rights. Using a majority driven initiative process to attack minority rights is just plain wrong. Your fear for the safety of people who would sign such petitions is, while laudable in sentiment, overblown and ironically misplaced.

I have given this a great deal of thought and I believe that what I proposed is both lawful and fair."


Posted by: The Gay Curmudgeon | Feb 13, 2008 3:22:08 PM

Gay Curmudgeon: If there is one thing I can't stand, it is being told I am "completely wrong" by someone because they don't agree with something I've written. Please be more respectful than that.

Although the names are public record, I see where a privacy issue could arise by turning the publication of all of these names and addresses into a political matter. I have noted that those who lend their names to this nonsense should be willing to justify their endeavors. And I have noted that they are public record. However, I think turning this into a form of advocacy does change things a little bit.

But Gay Curmudgeon, I'm not even speaking for or against the tactic. I'm just saying that it's not a situation that is black and white. It's uncharted territory, and it does raise some questions on both sides.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 13, 2008 4:05:25 PM

I'm sorry if you interpret my certainty as disrespect, it isn't. I spent a lot of time researching this in my own state and it seems to be poorly understood everywhere.

Accepting the premise that there is any expectation of privacy for people who have explicitly forfeited that privacy by engaging in a public petition initiative process ignores the legal reality. The data is public and there are no privacy issues.

The only real issue is how that public data is used by individuals once it is made more accessible, and I agree that is certainly a worthy discussion.


Posted by: The Gay Curmudgeon | Feb 13, 2008 6:40:54 PM

I didn't find it disrespectful, GC -- I just find your "certainty" unfair. You used one line I said about feeling like this does bring up some privacy issues and turned it into an absolute denunciation of that feeling. But in my opinion, it's not an either/or situation. There are complexities here. And again, even though it is, technically, public record, the idea of turning this into a gay advocacy website does change the game a little bit.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 13, 2008 7:19:08 PM

I would have to agree with GC. The signing of a petition is a public act and accords no right to privacy. It is an act just as public as standing in the town square with a megaphone and voicing your opinion. And the publishing of the list is analagous to the reporting of what a person was shouting in the town square. Legally, there are no privacy issues.

Neither this does not create an issue of liability with regard to harrassment of the people on the list. To continue the analogy, should a person make public statements (which signing a petition is) and is later harrassed because of it, any reporter of the statement would not be liable.

Now, people may think this is unfair. And certainly, part of its goal is to make people really think before making their prejudices public. There may be moral uncertainties, but there is no legal issue.

Posted by: matteo | Feb 13, 2008 9:14:56 PM

If you believe strongly enough to sign a petition to open voting on an initiative you should have no reason to conceal your beliefs and in most cases amoung those who hold the right to discuss such matters with you you don't. If names are published I certainly hope those identified will have the grace to be indifferent because they have no reason to hide their firm beliefs. Publishing the names and addresses of those who support a political action as a matter of public record with the intent of advancing discussion on the topic is pre-failing attempt. Anyone who had the potential to change the minds of people about an issue as emotional as gay marriage has already failed to do so. Bringing in strangers who have not earned the voter's respect or who hold no specific credentials to lend credence to their argument will only irritate and galvanize the voter and enhance resistance to your cause. I have seen no credible motivation in publishing the names of initiative 9 signees other than intimidation and humiliation of people who's greatest crime is supporting the democratic process. Regardless of the intent it is astronomically unlikely that these voters who have their personal information published will not be molested or even injured by some of the many people who are very upset about the outcome of initiative 9 and if the names are posted, even if there is no legal repercussion for the fallout, there is certainly a moral accountability. If you feel adamantly that it is the right of activist groups to advertise the names and addresses of signers of the I9 docket, I certainly hope you will equally support anyone who builds a public database of names and addresses of people who have outed themselves as homosexual so that those who wish to debate them on their sexuality will be better able to find them.

Posted by: W0LF | Jun 2, 2009 8:05:01 AM

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