The city of Fort Worth is seeking to withhold the names of witnesses who were present during the Rainbow Lounge raid, arguing that releasing the names would violate the witnesses’ privacy and cause people to speculate about their sexual orientation, The Star-Telegram reports here. As a result, many of the names likely will be redacted from the police department’s final report on the Rainbow Lounge raid, which the city says it will release by Dec. 11.
This is very interesting, especially considering that all or almost all of the witnesses’ names have already been released by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, in this report from last month. I count a total of 29 witness names in the TABC report, but apparently someone forgot to inform The Star-Telegram about this minor detail, because it isn’t even mentioned in the story. Also, is the city of Fort Worth not aware that TABC has already released the witnesses’ names? What is the city going to withhold next, the solution to two plus two? And if they did, would there be a story in The Star-Telegram?
But seriously, privacy is a legitimate concern, especially when it comes to sexual orientation. In a state where people can be fired for being gay and in a country where they can be kicked out of the military for divulging their sexual orientation, it’s a very legitimate concern. But as the story notes, sexual orientation has never been on the list of things that are considered private and protected under Texas open records law. As a journalist, I would tend to argue that people’s sexual orientation should not be private under open records law. But as a gay person, I would argue that in some cases it should.
In a letter to the Attorney General’s Office defending its decision to withhold the witnesses’ names, the city states that it “values the diversity of its citizenry and takes pride in all of the communities represented, including the LGBT community.” But in light of the fact that the witnesses’ names have already been released by TABC, this statement just seems like grandstanding or pandering on the part of the city. Still, I’m willing to support the city in its position that people’s sexual orientation should be private under open records law, and I’d even applaud a decision from the AG’s Office upholding the city’s position, but only on one very important condition: If sexual orientation is going to be private under open records law, the state of Texas must agree that from now on it’s going to keep its nose the hell out of people’s bedrooms in general. Deal?