We’re big fans of transparency, especially in the public sector. When it comes to those who donated cash to the Yes On 8 effort in California, we backed the effort to abide by the law and release those names to the public. But in Seattle, state employees find themselves trying to protect their own names when it comes to one man’s demands which staffers belong to a gay employee organization.
The situation began when 58-year-old Philip Irvin (pictured) — a senior power analyst for Seattle City Light who professes his heterosexuality and whiteness, and is known to crash gay-themed events — demanded in court to know the names of “anyone who has either attended, or received e-mails to attend, meetings of a city-sponsored affinity group at Seattle Public Utilities — the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transexual (LGBT), Questioning Employees and Friends group (LGBT QEF).” His obvious bias aside, his argument goes like this: We’ve got state employees using state facilities (read: taxpayer-funded) to meet and organize, and the public should be able to know who these folks are.
LGBT QEF isn’t the only grouping of state employees that does this; it is one of a dozen or so collectives, including other minority-based groups. The affinity organizations “have access to city resources, including e-mail, meeting space and limited funding for training, seminars and hosting speakers.”
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office agrees with Irvin, and argued in court that Irvin is entitled the the data. LGBT QEF, meanwhile, moved to block the release of the names, claiming privacy rights; they argue releasing the names will out state employees. On the books, meanwhile, are anti-discrimination laws that includes sexual orientation.
For now, LGBT QEF members’ identities are safe; a judge just ordered a temporary block on releasing the the names, though other documents will be made available Monday. Another hearing will be held.
And while Irvin’s intentions here are clearly vile — he’s anti-gay, yet wants to be able to see if he’s eligible to attend, and even run for office in the group — he raises a good point: If we demand the right to know the names of our so-called opponents who operate in the public sector and utilize taxpayer funds, shouldn’t Irvin have that same right?
“I’m going to exercise my right to be treated equally,” says Irvin, and “not as a second-class citizen because I’m not in line with the gay agenda.”
Meanwhile, the debate is especially sensitive in Washington State, where an effort to repeal Washington’s domestic partnerships law is underway. If Referendum 71 makes it in front of voters, the rights could be repealed — and gay rights advocates have pounced, insisting they will publish online the names of anyone who signs a petition to bring 71 to a vote.
Should we afford folks like Irvin the same courtesy? Or does LGBT QEF represent an exception to the rule?: It’s taxpayer-funded, sure, but it should be treated with the anonymity of an AA meeting.