Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2017

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Outing supporters of anti-gay groups

Online blacklist uses campaign donation records to identify people, businesses

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Beyond the Sun

The economy has nothing to do with why Pool Chlor lost a client last week.

The phone rang, and Pool Chlor co-owner Brett Skinner picked up. His client on the other end had a simple question: How do you feel about gay marriage? Skinner had a simple answer: Well, I just don’t believe in it.

With that, one client gone.

If his customer hadn’t come across a new Web site, Skinner might be fixing one more pool filter right now.

Pool Chlor is one of about 50 local companies and businesses named on — an online compilation, its creators say, of “individuals, businesses and organizations who have publicly supported inequality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people in either their business practices or political support.”

Yes, individuals too. More than 270 of them are named on the list, Nevada residents whose names were combed from campaign donation records. People who either contributed directly to Proposition 8 in California or to political action committees that support anti-gay initiatives, said Rik Holman, who launched the Web site with his unidentified partner, a local lawyer, in mid-November.

Some of the names you’ll know: Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, District Attorney David Roger. Clark County Credit Union Chief Executive Wayne Tew, Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, Clark County Family Court Judge Stefany Miley, UNLV professor Stephen Fife, former Republican Senate candidate Richard Ziser, former state Assemblyman Garn Mabey.

Other names on the list you won’t recognize. Take Lynette Cook, owner of Lynette’s Piano Instruction, for instance. She donated $500 to — Yes On 8, a group that helped spearhead the California gay marriage ban. (This is the same organization to which Tew donated $9,500 and Fife donated $100.) Cook, who has been teaching piano in Clark County for about 15 years, hadn’t heard of the gay blacklist until the Sun called her to ask. She shrugged it off.

“I think it’s too bad, isn’t it? They’re accusing us of a hate crime and they are being hateful. I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman,” she said. “I am a very loving, kind person.”

Her counter argument neatly sums up the response a number of people on the list had: Blacklisting someone for being intolerant is intolerant in and of itself. Take Richard Ziser, chairman of Nevada Concerned Citizens, an advocacy group very vocal in its stance against gay marriage.

“This shows how intolerant the gay community is when they don’t get their way,” Ziser said.

Donations to Nevada Concerned Citizens — a group that fought hard to enact Question 2 in 2002, successfully amending the state constitution to stipulate that a legal marriage can be only between a man and a woman — are what landed many people on in the first place, even if the donations were made before California’s Proposition 8 battle. District Attorney Roger donated $250 to Nevada Concerned Citizens in 2005, and another $250 in 2003. Pool Chlor donated $250 in 2003. Former Assemblyman Mabey donated $300 in 2003. Judge Miley donated $200 in 2005. Councilwoman Tarkanian and Commissioner Woodbury each donated $150 last year.

Many of the people on the list are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has been blamed, or championed, depending on whom you ask, for getting Prop. 8 passed in California through the extensive campaign donations of its members.

And nobody has threatened to sue. Holman, who doesn’t want his workplace disclosed, says he’s not out to defame anybody, but rather make public information more accessible, and make people think twice about where they spend their money.

That doesn’t mean that a name can’t come off the list, however.

The son of a couple featured on the list contacted Holman to note that although his parents did donate to NCC, they also donated extensively to the national civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign, which fights to win equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

So Holman took the couple off the list. He’d like to take more off. Of course, the only way to qualify for removal is to publicly declare your support for the LGBT community, like by donating to Human Rights Campaign. So far, nobody has volunteered.

“Is the site anything spiteful? No. Is it something where I would want to expose the individuals and the contributions they have made? Yes.”

And as for the argument that the list itself is intolerant, Holman has a counter answer: I’m not asking to be tolerated, I’m asking for equal rights.

“Unfortunately, I have to fight for equal rights.”

He has gotten support from the Gay & Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada, which has thrown rallies and marches to, in part, publicize the local boycott list.

“I don’t think we need to tolerate businesses that put their money in a place that supports things we don’t believe in,” said Candice Nichols, executive director of the center.

Holman’s fight, online, will go on as long as the Web site draws viewers. A tracker that tallies the number of visits to the site was just over 1,300 on Wednesday afternoon, though many of those visits could come from Holman, or a reporter scanning the list. Holman also had T-shirts made up, and he’s in the process of forming a more formal advisory council to oversee the future of the blacklist.

Similar lists, namely in California, have provoked much more outrage. Most notably, a director of a theater group in Sacramento resigned after he had been outed, so to speak, when his $1,000 donation to a Prop. 8 cause was made public. The director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Richard Raddon, also resigned from his post after his $1,500 donation made the news. On some occasions, the actions of one employee have hurt an entire business.

At El Coyote, a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, the $100 donation from a manager and member of the owning family prompted people to picket outside the restaurant. That employee later told the Los Angeles Times, “I’ve almost had a nervous breakdown.”

If the response in Vegas hasn’t been nearly as vitriolic, if Holman’s Web site has drawn modest traffic, it’s not because of apathy, he said, but because of a kind of sad resignation. Californians had something taken away; Nevada’s gay couples never had any marriage rights to take away in the first place.

Former Assemblyman Mabey is a doctor, and he says he hasn’t seen any patients drop from his roster as a result of the site. He says he has gay patients and treats them as he would any other, he just doesn’t support their right to marry. This being said, he’s not too upset about being on the site either.

“I believe in traditional marriage.”

UNLV assistant professor Stephen Fife, who happens to work in the university’s Marriage and Family Therapy Department, and specializes in the theory and philosophy of marriage, doesn’t seem too upset his name is out there either. Someone on campus told him about it last week. His only concern is that nobody asked why he did support Prop. 8 measures before they added his name to the list. Ask Fife, however, and his answer is pretty typical: “To retain the definition of marriage as it has been historically understood.”

And over at Pool Chlor, they’re not to worried either. They have hundreds of customers, co-owner Skinner said, and “everybody’s got opinions.”

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