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Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

Its been a while since I was making any serious amount of money online. I used to have several dedicated web and database servers housed at various data centers across the country. At one time, I was planning to build a huge network that was geographically distributed across the world. I turned out the lights of my last few remaining websites last year, when I let my last server go – it was in Los Angles, hosted at OC3 Networks. If you know anything about porn, you know thats where most of the sites are hosted. Ilan Mishan hosted just about everyone who was anyone in that industry, and despite the fact that some folks did not like him, he always struck me as someone who was honest and easy to deal with and the service was top notch, except for some problems with the IPs being blacklisted by the spamming places alot.

Its been difficult to find webhosts that would tolerate me. Many years ago, I was sued by one of my webhosts after I said some unflattering things about their service. A non-disclosure agreement prohibits me from talking about that incident. A favorite tactic of corporate America these days is to threaten the webhost of anyone who says anything they don’t like with a lawsuit if they don’t silence their customers, and most webhosting companies out of fear, ignorance or laziness – or a combination of all three – cave in and shut off the customer’s account even though the customer is not doing anything illegal.

After some searching, I found this company NFSN, Inc. that was offering hosting services under the name Nearly Free Speech. My hardware and bandwidth requirements are nowhere near what they used to be as I don’t need an entire cluster of boxes to myself anymore. After looking into the pricing of this place, which offers a very reasonable pay as you go approach to all services, they also offer something more important: management that knows how to handle legal threats and respond to frivolous ones by… doing nothing.

Have to say that after using their services for a week now, they are a company fit to serve up my shit. I may start working on some of my more controversial projects and getting them online.

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So this past Friday, I appeared on The American Heathen Radio Network’s talk show. We had a great time talking about the issues, and we also made an announcement. There is going to be a second lawsuit regarding vanity plates in Oklahoma in the near future. The host of the show, RJ Evans has previously been granted a tag reading “ATHEIST” by the OTC. However, the OTC has in the past denied the tag “GODLESS”. Evans is going to apply for the GODLESS tag later this week and when it is denied, bring suit against the OTC for the improper denial.

This is particularly disturbing (while at the same time being quite amusing) because it shows the highly subjective manner in which the OTC grants and denies tags. Simply put: the manner in which the OTC adjudicates applications is both arbitrary and capricious. Atheist means godless. The idea that the word atheist is not offensive but godless is offensive is pure poppycock. Whats more, it shows that the OTC is not even consistent in denying one side of a single issue the right to speak. While they have (as far as I know) kept all the gays from getting plates that could express their gayness, they clearly haven’t done the same for the atheists. No doubt, they’ll claim that this was another one of those plates that “slipped through”, but its been issued for over three years. As the Administrative Law Judge pointed out in the administrative hearings phase of the protest, each year a plate is renewed was an opportunity to deny such renewal and correct any plates that had “slipped through” and the OTC, in all of the examples that were considered at the hearing, elected not to do so.

So now we have the two biggest hot button issues in on this fight. We have religion and we have homosexuality. As RJ has astutely pointed out, this a separation of church and state issue as much as its a free speech and gay rights issue. We have a government agency which has claimed for itself the right to exclude certain people from the conversation that is taking place on about 56,000 vanity plates in the state based on criteria that is neither written nor specific. Who gets and plate and doesn’t get a plate is up to the personal prejudices of the individual encoder examining the application. When you let some people on one side of an issue talk and deny that right to others, its viewpoint-based discrimination. In Cimarron Alliance v. City of Oklahoma City, Ok, 290 F.Supp.2d 1252 (W.D. Okl., 2002), the federal Courts took a definitive stand against viewpoint-based discrimination.

While this started out being about me getting a license plate I wanted to express myself, it has quickly become about so much more. Its no longer just about me or my plate and its not even about gay rights. While all of these are components and motivating factors, This is about free speech and separation of church and state. Two of the most fundamental rights we as citizens of the United States hold to be of paramount importance. If the Oklahoma Tax Commission gets away with its conduct in this case, this signals a huge change in our rights. It will be the dawn of a new era in which the 1st amendment is void where prohibited, restricted or taxed by law or administrative rule. This case will set precedent and change the direction of free speech in this country.

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Well, I expected that the local Oklahoma City-based media would pay attention to the lawsuit I filed against The Oklahoma Tax Commission. I figured some outlets from around Oklahoma would also pay attention. I even thought that I might get a few “Attaboy!”s from a few concerned homos across state lines. But I did not expect CNN to call me about Nancy Grace possibly being interested in the case nor did I expect celebrity gossip blog Dlisted to turn the case into a referendum on my fashion choices by naming me “Hot Slut of the Day”. But all of those things have happened today, and many others.

Something else has happened as well. I have received dozens of communications from folks telling me what kinds of plates they have seen around or had issued to them. Its become a discussion about license plates and the phenomenon. I am convinced now – more than at any other point in this whole fiasco – that the OTC has lost this case. They may as well tape all applications up on the wall and throw darts at them to decide who gets a plate and who doesn’t. Its all based on, well, who knows what its based on. I don’t even think they know.

Here are two observations from those communications:

  • A fellow Norman resident called to tell me they granted his tag “ATHEIST”. Odd, since they have denied “GODLESS” and others. So not only do they engage in viewpoint-based discrimination, they are not even consistent in their discrimination within a single topic.
  • From a comment on the News 9 Story: “I don’t see anything wrong with the tag. There is a guy in Norman that has a tag that reads NOFTCHX. Which means NO FAT CHICKS, he can have that but an outwardly gay man can’t have an IM GAY tag. Get real people whatever happened to freedom of speech???”

Oh, and last – but certainly not least – there is this:

Media coverage in the case has apparently reached a nationwide level already, as I have some lonely, single (presumably, gay) guy who thinks I am cute and wants to get to know me in a really hurry. He is 22 years old, works at Sams Club and is from some town I have never heard of in New York. He found my cell number somewhere (probably the damned press release) and started texting me telling me he wanted to be friends on Facebook. I approved the friend request he sent and he immediately started chatting me up.

I was on the phone with a reporter when all this happened, so I had to ask him to stop messaging me on my Facebook chat like a dozen times so I could concentrate on my call and not sound like a stuttering idiot to the reporter on the other end who was trying to get me to come on his radio show (which I will be appearing on this Friday from 7 to 10 PM, I am sitting on the entire show). He would stop for about a minute and then start back in and ask me if I am still there and such. He was half groveling and half worshiping me, while asking what I thought of him looks wise.

It was a bit over the top and I finally snapped and swore at him out of frustration (and immediately felt bad for doing it, how was he supposed to know I am not a patient person) and told him I was looking for the block button on Facebook. He asked why and I told him, point blank: he was annoying the hell out of me. He then freaked out and begged for forgiveness and for me not to block him. It was at this point that I realized a measure of humility was needed here.

Honestly, I felt sorry for the guy. Clearly, he was happy to have found a friend. He doesn’t have many on Facebook and I wonder if I am the only gay guy he knows or who will talk to him. The world is a cruel place for a homosexual when you are all alone. Even when you are around folks who understand and support you, its not much less cruel. Some of the things being said about me in the comments sections of various news sites are completely uncalled for. There are areas of New York that are every bit as conservative as Oklahoma, so I can understand and appreciate some of what he is facing. Hell, I was there not so long ago.

I don’t know his situation, but I’ll try to find out and help if I can. He’s offline now and the reporter is off the phone. I just hope he doesn’t kill himself or something. He did strike me as perhaps a little unbalanced and/or desperate for human contact and he said something about him having ADHD. The way society treats gay people, its a wonder that they manage to survive at all, much less some of them become truly awesome. Bigot Sally Kern once made light of how gay kids have high suicide rates. I wonder if it ever occurred to her that maybe thats the case because society – led by people like her – so often treat these people like utter trash to the point that they as human beings just shut down and lose all desire and reason for living.

Overall, I feel very good about where this case is headed. The media is covering this story fairly and accurately, which surprises me a little bit. I figured we’d have some outlet come out with a hatchet job of a story, spun around to fit some biased viewpoint. But they don’t seem to be doing that. The Oklahoman ran a factual story, followed closely by The Associated Press’s take on it. I take that in and of itself as a sign of progress. We’re going to open some doors in Oklahoma with this one. Now, some folks are not going to want them opened, but they will be opened none the less.

I say all this is all a good thing. We’re moving forward. Attitudes are changing here.

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On February 10, 2010, I – through my attorney Brittany M. Novotnyfiled a civil lawsuit against The Oklahoma Tax Commission in The Oklahoma County District Court. The case seeks to have certain sections The Oklahoma Administrative Code (specifically, sections of O.A.C 710:60-3-150) dealing with the content and issuance of personalized license plates declared unconstitutional. You can follow the case on it’s Facebook page.

The press release issued upon filing was as follows:

For Immediate Release
Contact: Keith Kimmel, 405.886.5095, http://tinyurl.com/otcplatecase

Oklahoma City, OK – An Oklahoma taxpayer has filed a civil lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court against the Oklahoma Tax Commission, continuing a battle for freedom of speech on vanity license plates. The suit seeks to have part of the Commission’s rules regarding the issuance of personalized license plates declared unconstitutional.

Keith Kimmel, who filed the suit through his attorney, provided the following statement: “The Oklahoma Tax Commission is continuing to subject Oklahomans to a subjective decision making process in issuing personalized vanity license plates. Under our state Constitution, all Oklahomans enjoy the right to freedom of speech and an equal opportunity to express their viewpoints. Previous testimony in the administrative proceedings held on this matter have shown that the Commission is selectively granting and denying applications based on Commission employees’ own personal prejudices and viewpoints. The Constitution requires that state rules are viewpoint neutral, with an objective standard that puts the taxpayer on notice of what is legal and what is not. This suit is intended to put an end to the Tax Commission’s unconstitutional practice of subjecting taxpayers to the whim of individual employees.”

The case is Keith Kimmel v. State of Oklahoma, ex rel, Oklahoma Tax Commission, Oklahoma County Case No. CJ-2010-1072.

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This is the third update to a developing story I’ve been following for a while now. See the first two parts here and here. The following letter was received from Ed Payton, a member of the Union School District’s Board who voted in favor of keeping “Buster’s Sugartime” on shelves at the school’s libraries, a move which is now making national news. The e-mail was sent from the celebrityattractions.com domain, which appears to be a Payton family business in Tulsa that includes a theater.

Here is the message I received this morning:

This email is being sent to everyone who communicated their opinion to me regarding the recent Union Board of Education decision about the book, ‘Buster’s Sugartime’.

This process reminded me how fortunate we are at Union to have Administrators who clearly demonstrated their commitment to our students and their respect for Union parents.

I was one of three board members who voted to retain the book in our library. I did so because, after careful consideration, I did not believe it was a book advocating any illegal behavior, or particular lifestyle. Rather, it was a book that provided an opportunity for new readers to improve their reading skills, while expanding their understanding of the world around them.

I would like to correct a perception expressed by a few of you who made remarks in your email about the parents who request the book’s removal (‘homophobic’, ‘narrow-minded’, ‘censors’, etc). From my direct experience with these parents during the hearing, those criticisms do not apply. The parents were reasonable individuals, who presented their concerns in a respectful and thoughtful manner. Their concerns did not appear to emanate from a religious or political agenda, but rather from practical parenting. They felt it inappropriate for a kindergartener [sic] to be able to check out a book which contains references to a same sex couple living in a civil union when such a union is illegal in Oklahoma. While I disagree with that position, I can still appreciate their concernn [sic]. Nothing in their presentation indicated that these individuals are homophobic, book banners or book burners. In fact, they stated that this book would be totally appropriate in any state where civil unions or gay marriages were recognized.

If we are ever to move beyond the rancor and raised voices that too often accompany discussions related to this and other ‘hot-button’ issues, we must all learn the respect, civility and good manners that were exhibited by the Union Administrators and the Parents in this situation.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I am more convinced than ever that the Board made the correct decision, and am equally convinced that the kindergartner [sic] in this matter is fortunate to have parents as engaged as these two.

Ed. L. Payton

The following is a response that I filed with Ed by e-mail:

Hi Ed,

First off, thanks for voting to keep the book in the Union school
libraries. I’m glad that you did the right thing. Second, thank you for writing and providing those of us who could not attend the Board Meeting with insight into the thoughts behind your votes.

I agree with you wholeheartedly where you stated that we are fortunate that the Board has folks on it now who listened to students, teachers and others who commented on the item in question. A few years ago, there is a good chance we might not be where we are today and the school district might find itself on the business end of an expensive lawsuit. I’m glad to see that we have made such progress, it gives me hope for a state that some consider hopeless.

However, I’d like to point out that while the parents may indeed have presented their concerns in a professional and respectful manner, the concern they presented was indicative of a homophobic point of view. They were asking you and your fellow board members to remove from view a display of homosexuality that they found offensive for no reason other than the fact that it was homosexual in nature. That, by definition, is homophobia.

There are two types of homophobes: those who are uneducated and scream at the top of their lungs about how the sodomites must be removed from society, that they are going to hell, ad nauseum. The second group is quite educated and presents their homophobia in a much less obnoxious manner. Its the kinder, gentler homophobia and its much more dangerous because those people are smart enough to pass their homophobia off as
a legitimate concern. It looks to me like the parents in this
situation fall squarely into the second group.

The legality or lack thereof of same-sex unions in Oklahoma is
irrelevant to the matter at hand. This is an attempt to tie
homosexuality to an illegal act in an effort to distract from the
issue at hand while demonizing homosexuals. Our Supreme Court has already spoken on this issue and they were quite clear. Homosexuality is not illegal and the people who practice it (regardless of whether folks believe its a choice or the way they are) are not second class citizens. They are entitled to the same rights and the same exposure in the media as everyone else, including the books found in public school libraries.

Not all viewpoints are equal and some are just plain wrong. How can one tell the difference? Simply substitute “same sex” and “homosexual” (and other similar terms) with “mixed race couple” and “African American”. If this same parent came to your Board and asked for this book to be removed because it depicted an African American and a Cacasion being together, would the parents have even been given the time of day by the District? I highly doubt that they would have.

This is how to look at something and find out whats really behind the concern. People often say one thing while doing and meaning another. Its human nature to be manipulative and use false fronts to achieve our goals in life. So were the parents in this case really worried just about protecting kids from indecent material, or making sure that their kids never learn that homosexuality exists and has a legitimate place in our society?

If you have further questions about my comments here, or the ones I filed initially, please feel free to call me anytime at 405.886.5095. As one of the thousands of homosexuals who call Oklahoma my home, I’m always happy to reach out to our elected and appointed leadership to increase understanding of and on issues that are important to me.

It is interesting to note that because of the manner in which the e-mail was sent, I was able to ascertain the e-mail address of each recipient of the letter.  There were a mere 31 people that Ed sent his letter to. So, if he sent it to everyone who e-mailed a comment and since its unlikely there was time for replies to be sent in by mail or delivered personally to the Board, it looks like only those who e-mailed were heard from by the board. The Board did not accept in-person comments at its meeting.

A mere 31 letters were enough for this district to get the message loud and clear. That further assumes that all of the letters were in favor of our position, which its unlikely that they all were. So in this case, the time 31 people took to write a letter to their elected officials, forever changed Oklahoma for the better. I’m proud to know at least two of those people personally, as I recognize their e-mail addresses amongst the recipients.

I’m very proud of our community right now, thanks for everyone who took the time to write in. It very clearly did make a difference!

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The blizzard of e-mails to the Union School District produced results this evening, as the district voted to keep copies of “Buster’s Sugartime,” by Marc Brown on shelves. Special thanks to the fine folks at Oklahomans for Equality for getting the word out about this.

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Just got the following urgent message from Oklahomans for Equality, I’m passing it on here as a public service. Lets go, go, go – we only have a couple of hours to get e-mails in!

Oklahomans for Equality is monitoring a possible book banning issue developing in the Union Public School District of Tulsa County.

The book is “Buster’s Sugartime” by author Marc Brown which was on an episode of the “Postcards from Buster” series on PBS.

The school board will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Union Public Schools Education Service Center located at 8506 E. 61st St. The board will decide whether to remove the book or possibly limit access to it. This will not be a public forum where people can speak. No public comments will be allowed.

The Board of Education is addressing the situation after a parent brought their concerns to the district’s Materials Review Committee. The committee chose to keep the book on library shelves. The parent was opposed to the depiction of a child with two parents of the same gender. The parent has appealed the committee’s decision to the Union Public School Board.

Nancy McDonald president of PFLAG Tulsa says ” Our society embraces all kinds of families. Those “families” take on many different combinations such as, opposite sex, single parent, grandparents, same-sex and those families can be made up of different races, religions, cultures, ages, and sexual orientation. It is so important that young children have opportunities to see “their” families displayed in reading materials, movies, plays, print, and to know that the most important thing is that they are loved, cared for, and valued no matter what their family structure is.”

Please contact the Union Public School Board Secretary Beverly Thummel by emailing thummel.beverly@unionps.org. Your email will be shared with the Union School Board so be polite and respectful in your tone. If you are in the District 9 Independent Union School District please include that in your correspondence. Please refrain from calling the District’s office.

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