FACT CHECK: Drag Queen Story Time Petition Is Public Record
Despite what Facebook thinks, personal information on the petition opposing Drag Queen Story Time is not private. Let me explain:
The political climate in Lafayette, like much of the country, has been white hot with various issues coming to the forefront. In the last year, we have seen issues of public school infrastructure funding, a library tax and deconsolidation debated in the court of public opinion. This election season we have another contentious tax which was added to the ballot by Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mark Garber. But the one issue that seems to be the most polarizing is Drag Queen Story Time, which was set to be held at the main branch of the Lafayette Public Library.
Supporters and opponents have showed up full force at every opportunity for debate. A petition opposing the event was even circulated by Citizens For A New Louisiana (newlouisiana.org) which describes itself as a government policy research agency. It's one of several different political groups that have sprung up in the contentious political environment of late. That petition opposing the drag queen event was delivered to Lafayette Consolidated Council. Since then, a digital copy of the petition was also posted online. It's searchable and people are not happy about it.
A spoof Facebook page was created to draw attention to the publication and its purported infringement on privacy. To date, there has been one post:
So we went digging. What are the laws surrounding political positions? Do signees have a right to privacy as the Facebook post would suggest? Well, the short answer is no.
Back in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that transparency in elections was more important than the privacy of those who sign petitions. The issue at hand back then was same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs whose names were on that specific petition feared they would face retaliation because they opposed protections for same-sex couples. An NPR story broke down the ruling of the nation's highest court:
People who opposed the [same-sex marriage] bill gathered 120,000 signatures for a ballot measure asking voters to repeal it. That measure eventually reached Washington voters, who upheld "everything but marriage." Those who signed the repeal petition feared that they would be harassed if their names became public, so they went to court challenging Washington's Public Records Act.
So in the end, voters who sign political petitions are not guaranteed privacy under the current law. That's not to say the organizer may choose not to actively publicize the data, but they also can't actively conceal the identities of those who signed. For his part, Michael Lunsford, who is behind Citizens For A New Louisiana, said in a social media post that Lafayette Consolidated Government released the petition to the public.
For the record, Drag Queen Story Time has been moved from the library to the campus of South Louisiana Community College. Organizers say it was a space issue and not due to pressure from opposition groups.