The Blade earlier this month posted online a database of more than 100,000 names and addresses of Maryland residents who signed a petition to force the state’s marriage equality law onto the November ballot.
Our decision to post the database was immediately criticized by voices on the far right — and far left.
Monica Johnson, an evangelical writer for the Examiner newspaper, accused us of using “intimidation tactics,” writing, “will they take responsibility in the event that someone uses this information for evil purposes, or will they defer to their right to publish the information as a good enough reason?”
Right-wing homophobe Matt Barber accused us of “homo terrorism.” Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins tweeted, “@WashingtonBlade’s decision to publish the names of those who signed MD’s marriage amendment petition is nothing short of intimidation.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, transgender rights activist Dana Beyer told gay magazine Metro Weekly that the decision to post the names was unwise. “Given what the coalition has stated, that they don’t want to muddy the message, this does not help,” she said. ”You now have an interested third party, the Blade, releasing those names and potentially muddying the message.”
Critics of the decision made for strange bedfellows indeed. The only “intimidation” I’ve seen has come in the form of threats the Blade has received in phone calls to our office and emails to staff warning “I know where your at!”
Of course, it’s not our job to keep the message from being “muddied.” The occasional coziness between LGBT activists and journalists sometimes results in confusion about our role, but to be clear, the Blade employs journalists and not activists — or even “journo activists.” Our job is to shine a light on the truth; sunshine is the best antiseptic.
As Andrew Sullivan put it in defending our decision: “Some argue that this is a tool for intimidation or a violation of privacy. I’m afraid I cannot see that. Signing a political petition is a public act. If you are ashamed of trying to deny your fellow citizens their civil rights, you probably shouldn’t have signed the petition in the first place.”
The database of names in question was verified and compiled using public money. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent and, as Sullivan rightly notes, signing a petition to take away rights from a class of people is a public act. We don’t allow our lawmakers to take their votes in secret and similarly we shouldn’t tolerate secrecy in the petition process, which is being used more and more in Maryland and elsewhere to circumvent the legislature. In essence, those petition signers are acting as legislators and as such their names must be open to public scrutiny. It’s mindboggling that LGBT rights supporters would advocate for a shadowy, opaque political process.
Kevin Nix, a spokesperson for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition fighting to preserve the marriage law, said he doesn’t condone our decision to publish the names. If he were more strategic in his thinking, he’d embrace this as an opportunity to engage with some of those 100,000 people to change hearts and minds before the November vote. The database is sorted by neighborhood — among other criteria — enabling the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition to see exactly where the highest concentrations of our opponents live. They should be thanking us for this tool rather than publicly criticizing the Blade.
Luckily, there are many average LGBT Marylanders who understand that this database presents us with an opportunity to engage with our loved ones who signed the petition. I have heard from multiple friends and even one openly gay elected official that upon searching the database they discovered family members and neighbors had signed. They are now actively reaching out to them to explain the law and how it helps our families in hopes that those petition signers don’t turn into votes against our equality.
Some have asked if the shooting last week at the Family Research Council headquarters allegedly by a man who volunteered at the DC Center for the LGBT Community would have changed our decision to publish. The answer is no. That isolated incident was a tragic aberration and not indicative of the mindset of the LGBT community. We have been the victims of violence long enough to know that violence is not the way to resolve political disagreements.
The best way to counter the hate — and, yes, the Family Research Council is a hate group — of the far right is with truth and an open dialogue. We should all fight to ensure transparency in government, especially when our opponents are counting on secrecy and lack of accountability to hide their dirty deeds from public scrutiny.