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Old 08-28-2009, 08:14 AM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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The Outing of Oliver Sipple

Sounds like a Lifetime movie title, no?

Oliver Sipple was a former Marine who saved the life of then-President Gerald R. Ford. Just three weeks after Ford was targeted by Manson follower Lynnete "Squeaky" Fromme, the President was leaving San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel when Sara Jane Moore, reportedly angry about the government's domestic "war on the left," pointed a pistol at Ford and fired. Sipple saw her point the gun and grabbed her arm, deflecting the shot; it missed Ford, hit a wall, and riccocheted into a bystander, slightly injuring him. The Secret Service declared Sipple a hero.

Sipple was gay. He was not out of the closet; his family and his employer did not know, although he had participated in past Gay Pride events. When the national spotlight hit him for saving Ford's life, Harvey Milk, the openly gay activist who would go on to become a city supervisor before being assassinated himself, contacted newspapers to advise them of Sipple's orientation. The noted San Francisco columnist Herb Caen published the story that outed Sipple as gay. Sipple sued, but ultimately the courts ruled he was a public figure, presumably by virtue of having saved Ford from assassination, and he did not prevail.

Milk had reportedly said, "It's too good an opportunity. For once we can show that gays do heroic things, not just all that ca-ca about molesting children and hanging out in bathrooms."

I think that was an assholish thing for Milk to do. One can make the argument that outing, say, a politician who publicly is anti-gay serves some purpose, but all Sipple did was thwart an assassination of the President of the United States. He didn't want to be outed, and surely he deserved to be able to keep his private life private. It's almost as though he was punished for the good deed.
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Old 08-28-2009, 08:43 AM
Bill Door Bill Door is offline
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I brought this very fact up last October. The whole story is kind of sad.
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Old 08-28-2009, 08:52 AM
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I like the idea of using Sipple and Milks shared sexuality as the basis of a debate. I am sure Sipple would have appreciated the setiment.

Last edited by bannerrefugee; 08-28-2009 at 08:53 AM.
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Old 08-28-2009, 09:06 AM
Rhythmdvl Rhythmdvl is offline
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Not being gay and not being politically cognizant at the time, it’s difficult for me to have a perspective on events. Dick thing to do? Probably. Forgetting for the moment the implications of being outed at the time, dragging any accidental tourist further into the fishbowl is a dick thing to do. Furthermore, publicizing private-life details is a dick move, whether he was gay, was a Catholic marrying a Protestant, or still liked to put drumsticks on either side of his nose.

But this was part of (or at least connected to?) the civil rights movement, if for no other reason then it was in the air at the time (please don’t let me accidentally hijack things into that discussion). People were getting hurt both mentally and physically, much of it due to perceptions. While it was a dickish thing to do, we (writ large and small) are societally indebted to the outting. Given where we are today and the ostensible significance of the outting, I don’t think I could condemn it.

There are factors that weigh on this. One is the notion that Sipple participated in gay pride events. I don’t know the extent, but his activity placed him within the realm of the debate. Another factor was his notoriety. It’s an awfully nuanced area, and clearly it was an accidental entry, but society is, on balance, better off with lesser protections for those both voluntarily and involuntarily in the limelight. There should, though (IMHO), be a descending scale from voluntary to not-at-all in terms of levels of protection.

The closest I can analogize to personal witnessing is the Plame affair. Both had journalists outting someone for what they thought were higher motives. They are, however, easily distinguished, and good examples of good/bad | proper/improper conduct. Though one could distil them both down to outting someone in order to advance a cause they thought was right, one cannot filter out the underlying lies in the Plame incident. Her outting was rooted in fostering a public deception and was designed to discredit a known truth by means of perception—a meta-lie, if you will.
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Old 08-28-2009, 09:12 AM
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I like the idea of using Sipple and Milks shared sexuality as the basis of a debate. I am sure Sipple would have appreciated the setiment.
Who did that?
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Old 08-28-2009, 09:21 AM
Shodan Shodan is offline
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Harvey Milk, the openly gay activist who would go on to become a city supervisor before being assassinated himself, contacted newspapers to advise them of Sipple's orientation.
Geez, what an asshole thing to do.

All this stuff about a right to privacy - until some politician needs it to push his agenda.

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Old 08-28-2009, 09:23 AM
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But this was part of (or at least connected to?) the civil rights movement, if for no other reason then it was in the air at the time (please donít let me accidentally hijack things into that discussion). People were getting hurt both mentally and physically, much of it due to perceptions. While it was a dickish thing to do, we (writ large and small) are societally indebted to the outting. Given where we are today and the ostensible significance of the outting, I donít think I could condemn it.
Undoubtedly the beneficiaries of every civil rights movement owe a great deal to those who suffered to advance the cause. Alice Paul was sent to jail and force-fed through a tube to negate her hunger strike, and today women have the vote and owe it in part to her willingness to suffer those indignities.

But that doesn't mean we should approve of someone unwillingly being put through the wringer, and that's what happened in this case. You SHOULD condemn this outing, because Sipple did not seek out and did not want to be a public face for gay rights. He wanted, in an instant, to save the life of the President. Thank goodness he didn't see what his heroism would bring him, or he might have chosen to do nothing, and we'd never know the name Oliver Sipple. But we'd all know the 39th President of the United States was Nelson Rockfeller.

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There are factors that weigh on this. One is the notion that Sipple participated in gay pride events. I donít know the extent, but his activity placed him within the realm of the debate. Another factor was his notoriety. Itís an awfully nuanced area, and clearly it was an accidental entry, but society is, on balance, better off with lesser protections for those both voluntarily and involuntarily in the limelight. There should, though (IMHO), be a descending scale from voluntary to not-at-all in terms of levels of protection.
I agree with the fact that his participation in Gay Pride events was arguably relevant. But that's not what motivated the expose. The newspapers would have no reason to print a story about Oliver Sipple, disabled Marine, living in the Mission District, who is - gasp - gay. There would just be no story there. So, no, I don't see it. He was outed not because of his GP activities, whatever they were, but because he chose to save a man's life. Shitty reward.
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Old 08-28-2009, 09:24 AM
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Who did that?
Is this great debates?
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Old 08-28-2009, 09:29 AM
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Is this great debates?
Yes, it is. But so far as I can see, no one has used Sipple and Milks shared sexuality as the basis of a debate. It's true that Milk's and Sipple's shared sexuality is mentioned, but that's not the basis for the debate. Sipple's sexuality is mentioned because that's what he was outed for; it's the gravamen of the debate. Milk's sexuality is mentioned as part of the res gestae: it explains why he did what he did. But the basis for the debate is the unwanted outing of a "public" figuer who is public not through his own desire to be public, but by a selfless act that thrust him into the public spotlight.

The debate would be the same, in other words, if a hetereosexual had outed Sipple because he thought a fag shouldn't get credit for saving the President. (Although I suspect that that motivation would be much less likely to garner sympathy).
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Old 08-28-2009, 09:31 AM
Marley23 Marley23 is offline
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I think that was an assholish thing for Milk to do.
I agree. It was callous and selfish, and disrespectful of Sipple's privacy. Milk used him as a tool to further an agenda. It's a worthy cause but that doesn't justify this action.

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Originally Posted by Rhythmdvl View Post
While it was a dickish thing to do, we (writ large and small) are societally indebted to the outting. Given where we are today and the ostensible significance of the outting, I donít think I could condemn it.
Are we really? Aside from Oliver Sipple and people who knew him, I question whether anyone's life would be different if he'd been allowed to keep his sexuality private, or tell people as he saw fit.

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One is the notion that Sipple participated in gay pride events. I donít know the extent, but his activity placed him within the realm of the debate. Another factor was his notoriety.
I don't think he had grounds for a lawsuit, and apparently neither did the judge. But as far as being within the realm of the debate goes, this was a different time: nobody was broadcasting the gay pride marches through a Web site and Sipple wasn't twittering from the parade. He didn't have a total expectation of privacy but I think it's reasonable to say he did not expect the country at large to know about his participation.
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Old 08-28-2009, 09:34 AM
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Yes, it is. But so far as I can see, no one has used Sipple and Milks shared sexuality as the basis of a debate. It's true that Milk's and Sipple's shared sexuality is mentioned, but that's not the basis for the debate. Sipple's sexuality is mentioned because that's what he was outed for; it's the gravamen of the debate. Milk's sexuality is mentioned as part of the res gestae: it explains why he did what he did. But the basis for the debate is the unwanted outing of a "public" figuer who is public not through his own desire to be public, but by a selfless act that thrust him into the public spotlight.

The debate would be the same, in other words, if a hetereosexual had outed Sipple because he thought a fag shouldn't get credit for saving the President. (Although I suspect that that motivation would be much less likely to garner sympathy).
That is some really twisted logic. So twisted that it should have been part of the OP.
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Old 08-28-2009, 09:38 AM
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That is some really twisted logic. So twisted that it should have been part of the OP.
Since this is Great Debates, it's not sufficient to simply say, "That's twisted logic." What, specifcally, is "twisted" about it? I have specifically identified and rebutted your claim. To paraphrase the famous Monty Python skit, "A debate is not simply the automatic gainsay of anything I say."


Yes, I know what I'm inviting with that line.

Last edited by Bricker; 08-28-2009 at 09:38 AM.
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Old 08-28-2009, 09:53 AM
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A debate is not simply the automatic gainsay of anything I say."
I can't argue with Monty Python.
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Old 08-28-2009, 10:00 AM
Simplicio Simplicio is offline
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I don't think he had grounds for a lawsuit, and apparently neither did the judge. But as far as being within the realm of the debate goes, this was a different time: nobody was broadcasting the gay pride marches through a Web site and Sipple wasn't twittering from the parade. He didn't have a total expectation of privacy but I think it's reasonable to say he did not expect the country at large to know about his participation.
I dunno. The whole point of a parade is to be seen by the public, just because they didn't have twitter doesn't change that. And it doesn't matters whether or not he thought the country at large to know, I'd say one either has an expectation of privacy or one doesn't, there is no "expectation of privacy just from national attention."

I'm not sure that totally absolves Milk, but I'd be a lot more down on him if he was revealing something about Sipple he knew only from private conversations with him. And I certainly simpithyze with Milk's motivations.

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Old 08-28-2009, 10:10 AM
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I can't argue with Monty Python.
Yes you can!
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Old 08-28-2009, 10:16 AM
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I dunno. The whole point of a parade is to be seen by the public, just because they didn't have twitter doesn't change that. And it doesn't matters whether or not he thought the country at large to know, I'd say one either has an expectation of privacy or one doesn't, there is no "expectation of privacy just from national attention."
It's not clear to me that he participated in a gay pride parade; merely "gay pride events." And that could be seen as a gesture of solidarity with the gay rights movement; I bet, if we did a survey on this board, we could find many straight people who have attended gay pride events or even a gay pride parade.


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I'm not sure that totally absolves Milk, but I'd be a lot more down on him if he was revealing something about Sipple he knew only from private conversations with him. And I certainly simpithyze with Milk's motivations.
Actually, I believe Milk knew Sipple personally though an ex-lover, Joe Campbell, who was also an ex-lover of Sipple's. So it wasn't a case of, "I've seen that guy at the parades, so he must be gay."

Last edited by Bricker; 08-28-2009 at 10:17 AM.
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Old 08-28-2009, 10:21 AM
Saintly Loser Saintly Loser is offline
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Bricker said:

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Yes, it is. But so far as I can see, no one has used Sipple and Milks shared sexuality as the basis of a debate. It's true that Milk's and Sipple's shared sexuality is mentioned, but that's not the basis for the debate. Sipple's sexuality is mentioned because that's what he was outed for; it's the gravamen of the debate. Milk's sexuality is mentioned as part of the res gestae: it explains why he did what he did. But the basis for the debate is the unwanted outing of a "public" figuer who is public not through his own desire to be public, but by a selfless act that thrust him into the public spotlight.

The debate would be the same, in other words, if a hetereosexual had outed Sipple because he thought a fag shouldn't get credit for saving the President. (Although I suspect that that motivation would be much less likely to garner sympathy).
bannerrefugee responded:

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That is some really twisted logic. So twisted that it should have been part of the OP.
I'm not sure I see the twist to the logic. Say a gay-hating heterosexual had outed Sipple because he didn't want a fag to get credit for saving the President. Milk outed Sipple because he wanted Sipple to get the credit, and thus cause gay people in in general to be seen in a better light by the nation as a whole.

Same act, different motivations. And in each case the effect on Sipple is the same. Something happened to him that he didn't want to happen.

So, if it's wrong for the homophobe to out Sipple, why would it be OK for Milk? That's only arguable if you're willing to say that (a) the greater good (as defined by, in this case, Milk) trumps any rights of the individual to privacy, or (b) that Milk's status as a gay leader fighting for gay rights and acceptance exempted him from any obligation to respect the right to privacy of others, or (c) that Sipple, being gay (even though he chose to keep that fact to himself) somehow fell under the jurisdiction of Milk, a gay "leader", and thus surrendered his right to privacy to Milk. OK, that last one doesn't even begin to hold water.

I suspect that Milk believed all three of the above. It's entirely possible that Milk, like many leaders, had enough ego even to believe (c).

Last edited by Saintly Loser; 08-28-2009 at 10:22 AM.
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Old 08-28-2009, 10:36 AM
Simplicio Simplicio is offline
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It's not clear to me that he participated in a gay pride parade; merely "gay pride events." And that could be seen as a gesture of solidarity with the gay rights movement; I bet, if we did a survey on this board, we could find many straight people who have attended gay pride events or even a gay pride parade.
Fair enough, I thought I'd read somewhere that he'd been in a parade, but I can't find a cite now, so I'm not sure. In any case, I'd say how I feel about it depends on how open Sipple was about his sexuality in his local community.


Quote:
Actually, I believe Milk knew Sipple personally though an ex-lover, Joe Campbell, who was also an ex-lover of Sipple's. So it wasn't a case of, "I've seen that guy at the parades, so he must be gay."
Are you sure Milk outted him? This article says Milk wanted him to be outted, but that the actual fact of his sexuality was revealed by an anonymous tip to a local newspaperman in SF.
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Old 08-28-2009, 10:42 AM
Rhythmdvl Rhythmdvl is offline
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Are we really? Aside from Oliver Sipple and people who knew him, I question whether anyone's life would be different if he'd been allowed to keep his sexuality private, or tell people as he saw fit.
Bear in mind that I fully acknowledge that I'm several steps removed from the situation; my assertions are based on detached perception rather than contemporary observation.

Was he Rosa Parks-like in his profile? Was he one of many, relatively obscure people whose outting exemplified the non-monsterish, non-aberrative nature of homosexuals? I honestly have no idea what the actual extent of his personal impact was, save what I know from history and popular culture.

I agree that being a conscript sucks. I agree that sometimes the toll it takes personally is far greater than the contribution to society. I also believe that his contribution, wrested from his choice as it was, did make for a better society. It doesn't matter that I never have to worry about getting beaten up or ostracized for my proclivities, that you (the general you) don't, society is improved.
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Old 08-28-2009, 10:51 AM
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Was he Rosa Parks-like in his profile? Was he one of many, relatively obscure people whose outting exemplified the non-monsterish, non-aberrative nature of homosexuals?
It was a somewhat big deal at the time, which is exactly what Milk sought to capture by outing him: gays are not furtive rejects propositioning teens in public restrooms; they can be ordinary people, and they can be heroes.

Quote:
I agree that being a conscript sucks. I agree that sometimes the toll it takes personally is far greater than the contribution to society. I also believe that his contribution, wrested from his choice as it was, did make for a better society. It doesn't matter that I never have to worry about getting beaten up or ostracized for my proclivities, that you (the general you) don't, society is improved.
Yes. Society was improved in the sense that acceptance of the gays-as-laudable-people motif was advanced and gays-as-sick-perverts was likewise diminished. But at the same time, society was hurt because a private life and a private secret was made public, and a man's relationship with his family dramatically damaged, when he didn't invite those consequences.

On balance, I'd say if the battle can only be won by the sacrifice of unwilling conscripts, it's probably not worth winning.
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Old 08-28-2009, 11:03 AM
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Are you sure Milk outted him? This article says Milk wanted him to be outted, but that the actual fact of his sexuality was revealed by an anonymous tip to a local newspaperman in SF.
Yes.

Quote:
The first press mention of Sipple's sexual orientation appeared on Sept. 24, 1975, two days after the attempt on Ford's life. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen reported that [Harvey Milk] and another gay man "who claim to be among Sipple's close friends, describe themselves as `proud-maybe this will help break the stereotype.' "
From the L.A. Times, "Sorrow Trailed a Veteran Who Saved a President and Then Was Cast in an Unwanted Spotlight [Home Edition]," Author: DAN MORAIN, Date: Feb 13, 1989, Start Page: 1, Section: View." I don't have an unpaid link to the document, unfortunately.

Last edited by Bricker; 08-28-2009 at 11:04 AM.
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Old 08-28-2009, 11:14 AM
Rhythmdvl Rhythmdvl is offline
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It was a somewhat big deal at the time, which is exactly what Milk sought to capture by outing him: gays are not furtive rejects propositioning teens in public restrooms; they can be ordinary people, and they can be heroes.
Thanks for the perspective. Note that I was directly responding to Marley's question of whether or not we (the contemporary we) owe him a debt.

It's definitely a case of using someone as a means to an end, sending Kant and the non-consequentialists into apoplectic fits. From a utilitarian point of view, the utils lost to the destruction of his life are smaller than the utils gained from the current shape of society. I believe consequentialists can acknowledge the flaws and weaknesses inherent to their calculations, but in a sort of meta-c/b/a conclude that on balance, assuming that the individual weighings are done in a rational, analytical, and open manner, the net benefit of their approach will yield more utils over the long term.

I'm not staunchly in favour of his outting, nor of the overall tactic. As in my first post, I think it was a dickish thing to do. But if I were as wrapped up in the movement and actively working for its cause (and assuming a much greater perspective and understanding of the issues supported this contention), I daresay I would take a tarnishment of my ethical pedestal and make a similar choice.
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Old 08-28-2009, 11:32 AM
Triskadecamus Triskadecamus is offline
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I lived with a bunch of lesbians, once, long ago. At their invitation, I participated in a Gay Pride celebration. Oddly enough, I am not a lesbian. I am not even gay.

The part of this that I find displeasing is that the court, and subsequent courts as well have accepted the contention that if a person appears newsworthy, to the news media, they are "public persons" and thereby de jure less than fully protected by the laws of the nation.

If you meet the Good Samaritan on the road, go ahead and say whatever you want about him. He's just a publicity seeking attention whore.

Tris
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Old 08-28-2009, 11:42 AM
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Dick move on Milk's part, period. You don't throw someone into the struggle if they don't want to be in it. And yes, there is a difference between being in a parade and being thrust into the interview-spotlight. Just like there would be a difference between someone marching on Montgomery and someone giving a speech to the crowd at that march. Not everyone has what it takes to be a King or Rosa Parks. And that's their choice.
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Old 08-28-2009, 11:58 AM
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I share the intuition that this was a dickish move on Milk's part. But I find that when it comes to privacy as between individuals, I have a hard time defending my intuitions with rational arguments.

Privacy as between private citizens is very different from privacy between citizen and state. Privacy as between citizens and government refers to two related concepts: First, a private sphere in which the government ought not interfere. That is, the distinction between that which is public (e.g. subject to democratic control) and that which is not. And second, the idea of preventing the government from having certain information in order to guard against abuse of government power (e.g. not having lists of who owns guns). This form of privacy is easy to rationally defend, though there are clearly arguments on both sides.

Privacy as between individuals is murkier, I think. Neither of the above ideas of privacy directly apply to privacy as between individuals. Privacy between individuals is not about power and prophylactics against abuse of power. It is about more slippery concepts of dignity, shame, freedom from judgment of peers, freedom to deceive, and decorum. In particular, I have a hard time pointing out exactly what is troubling about the revelation of private facts about a person gained without violating that persons reasonable expectations of privacy, especially when those facts are of public concern.

What I find intuitively troubling is the obvious fact that revelation of these private facts exposed Oliver Sipple to irrational public prejudice. But one man's irrational public prejudice is another man's righteous community judgment. And surely the lion's share of responsibility for the community's reaction is born by the community, not the person who allowed the community to know the information. Here's the thought experiment I've been mulling over: Is the revelation that a particular person of unknown sexuality is heterosexual troubling if that person didn't want his sexuality known? My intuition is that it is troubling, but I can't put my finger on what is actually wrong about it beyond reference to some murky concept of privacy. What about revealing that someone is single? Or that someone smokes cigarettes? What is the principled justification for which information can be shared without an individual's permission and which cannot? What is the support for the principle that we ought to have the authority to determine who shares what information about ourselves with others?

Last edited by Richard Parker; 08-28-2009 at 11:59 AM.
  #26  
Old 08-28-2009, 12:25 PM
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Geez, what an asshole thing to do.

All this stuff about a right to privacy - until some politician needs it to push his agenda.

Regards,
Shodan
Come witness the hypocrisy inherent in the system!!!!!!!11




As far as the OP goes, in this case the needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the one. Milk did wrong here.
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Old 08-28-2009, 12:43 PM
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Geez, what an asshole thing to do.

All this stuff about a right to privacy - until some politician needs it to push his agenda.

Regards,
Shodan
Regardless of one's views on the morality of Milk's action or the right to privacy, this completely misses the point. The right to privacy which SCOTUS has found/invented is the right to make private decisions for yourself without interference from the state. It is not the right to restrict the speech of others when they want to talk about the private decisions you have made.
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Old 08-28-2009, 12:51 PM
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Unethical, if understandable. Do recall that Milk was a man who pretty much expected to be killed for being gay; in essence he was in a war scenario.
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Old 08-28-2009, 02:22 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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What is the principled justification for which information can be shared without an individual's permission and which cannot? What is the support for the principle that we ought to have the authority to determine who shares what information about ourselves with others?
Well, we might start with the tort elements of invasion of privacy, which I don't know off the top of my head anymore, but which a quick Google suggests are covered in Restatement (2nd) Torts 652D, Publicity Given to Private Life:

Quote:
One who gives publicity to a matter concerning the private life of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the matter publicized is of a kind that
(a) would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and
(b) is not of legitimate concern to the public.
Comment b, at 386 (1977):
Quote:
Every individual has some phases of his life and his activities and some facts about himself that he does not expose to the public eye, but keeps entirely to himself or at most reveals only to his family or to close personal friends.
.
.
.
The rule . . . gives protection only against unreasonable publicity, of a kind highly offensive to the ordinary reasonable [person]. The protection afforded to the plaintiff's interest in his privacy must be relative to the customs of the time and place, to the occupation of the plaintiff and to the habits of his neighbors and fellow citizens. Complete privacy does not exist in this world except in a desert, and anyone who is not a hermit must expect and endure the ordinary incidents of the community life of which he is a part. . . . Even minor and moderate annoyance . . . is not sufficient to give him a cause of action under the rule stated in this Section. It is only when the publicity given to him is such that a reasonable person would feel justified in feeling seriously aggrieved by it, that the cause of action arises.
I offer the comment text to show that what must be "highly offensive" is not the fact of the matter revealed in the publication, but whether a reasonable person would be highly offended by having such revealed about him. In other words, we don't question whether it's "highly offensive" that someone is gay, but whther it's highly offensive to a reasonable person, secretly gay, to have his orientation revealed.

And I'll add, on edit: I have no particular expertise in civil law, so I welcome correction from those more experienced than I.

Last edited by Bricker; 08-28-2009 at 02:26 PM.
  #30  
Old 08-28-2009, 02:30 PM
kaylasdad99 kaylasdad99 is online now
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Bricker, I'm curious to know what tangible damages Sipple sustained. Did he lose his employment?

I do think Milk behaved selfishly and unethically, btw, if that's what the debate is. But I don't think I have enough information to believe that the court was wrong to have considered him a public figure. You say "presumably by virtue of having saved Ford from assassination," but I'm not prepared to accept that that was the basis of the court's reasoning.

And Herb Caen was also a bit of a dick.
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Old 08-28-2009, 02:41 PM
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Bricker, I'm curious to know what tangible damages Sipple sustained. Did he lose his employment?
His parents refused to speak with him after the disclosure, a period of estrangement that went on for several years.

Quote:
I do think Milk behaved selfishly and unethically, btw, if that's what the debate is. But I don't think I have enough information to believe that the court was wrong to have considered him a public figure. You say "presumably by virtue of having saved Ford from assassination," but I'm not prepared to accept that that was the basis of the court's reasoning.
Actually, it was a basis. See Sipple v. Chronicle Publ'g Co., 154 Cal. App. 3d 1040 (1984).
Quote:
...the record shows that the publications were not motivated by a morbid and sensational prying into appellant's private life but rather were prompted by legitimate political considerations, i.e., to dispel the false public opinion that gays were timid, weak and unheroic figures and to raise the equally important political question whether the President of the United States entertained a discriminatory attitude or bias against a minority group such as homosexuals.
(That latter point was based on a question raised by the column: Ford thanked Sipple by personal letter but did not invite him to the White House; the column speculated that Ford did not do this because Sipple was gay.)

Last edited by Bricker; 08-28-2009 at 02:41 PM.
  #32  
Old 08-28-2009, 03:07 PM
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What is the principled justification for which information can be shared without an individual's permission and which cannot? What is the support for the principle that we ought to have the authority to determine who shares what information about ourselves with others?
Well, we might start with the tort elements of invasion of privacy...
In other words, we don't question whether it's "highly offensive" that someone is gay, but whether it's highly offensive to a reasonable person, secretly gay, to have his orientation revealed.
I am not suggesting that the law does not protect individual's privacy interests. It clearly does in many contexts. Indeed, many states probably would have allowed suit against Milk because they reject the notion of involuntary limited public figures.

I am suggesting that the reasons for protecting this interest are not entirely clear. The tort of invasion of privacy seems to be primarily concerned with causing offense. But generally speaking, causing mere offense is other contexts is not actionable. What makes it actionable in the privacy context is some underlying privacy interest, the support for which remains unclear.

As usual, some other smarter person has said it better than I could. Check out Judge Posner's discussion of privacy here . I don't agree 100% with what Posner has to say, but I think he raises some fascinating issues that undermine my intuitive valuation of the privacy interest.
  #33  
Old 08-28-2009, 03:13 PM
kaylasdad99 kaylasdad99 is online now
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His parents refused to speak with him after the disclosure, a period of estrangement that went on for several years.
While I'll accept that such would be a recompensable civil tort, it strikes me as an intangible, at least insofar as it doesn't seem to admit of a specific monetary valuation for the purposes of demanding a remedy.
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Actually, it was a basis. See Sipple v. Chronicle Publ'g Co., 154 Cal. App. 3d 1040 (1984).
Quote:
...the record shows that the publications were not motivated by a morbid and sensational prying into appellant's private life but rather were prompted by legitimate political considerations, i.e., to dispel the false public opinion that gays were timid, weak and unheroic figures and to raise the equally important political question whether the President of the United States entertained a discriminatory attitude or bias against a minority group such as homosexuals.
(That latter point was based on a question raised by the column: Ford thanked Sipple by personal letter but did not invite him to the White House; the column speculated that Ford did not do this because Sipple was gay.)
Again, I find this less than satisfying. It certainly speaks to the motivation of the newspapers, but it seems to not address whether performing an act of heroism converts a private person into a public person. Or if it does, then any closeted gay firefighter who went into a burning building to rescue a trapped resident would seem to be subject to being outed against his will.

I'm wondering if, between the day of the excitement, and the time he was outed, did Sipple encourage continuation of the public recognition that the event brought him? Did he lobby for a medal? Did he get a tattoo on his chest in the shape of a medal, with the caption: "This is where my medal would be if I was wearing a shirt"?

There is something that bugs me about this:
Quote:
...the record shows that the publications were not motivated by a morbid and sensational prying into appellant's private life but rather were prompted by legitimate political considerations, i.e., to dispel the false public opinion that gays were timid, weak and unheroic figures and to raise the equally important political question whether the President of the United States entertained a discriminatory attitude or bias against a minority group such as homosexuals.
It seems to imply a belief that someone can be drafted, against his will, to be a poster child in a policy debate. That strikes me as wrong.
  #34  
Old 08-28-2009, 03:24 PM
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There is something that bugs me about this:It seems to imply a belief that someone can be drafted, against his will, to be a poster child in a policy debate. That strikes me as wrong.
I think the court is saying that the issue was a matter of public concern.
  #35  
Old 08-28-2009, 03:26 PM
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I'm not sure I see the twist to the logic. Say a gay-hating heterosexual had outed Sipple because he didn't want a fag to get credit for saving the President. Milk outed Sipple because he wanted Sipple to get the credit, and thus cause gay people in in general to be seen in a better light by the nation as a whole.

Same act, different motivations. And in each case the effect on Sipple is the same. Something happened to him that he didn't want to happen.

So, if it's wrong for the homophobe to out Sipple, why would it be OK for Milk?
I think there is a significant difference between doing an act maliciously to hurt someone, and doing the same act without malicious intent. If someone outed Sipple because they wanted him to suffer for being gay simply because they feel that gays should suffer that would have been wrong. Simply because it is wrong to want to cause pain to another human who has done no wrong. Milk still bears responsibility because he knew his actions would have negative implications for Sipple. However, he gets off a little bit easier because his intention wasn't to cause pain to Sipple. That was simply an unfortunate side effect. It makes him cold and calculating on behalf of his cause, not evil.
  #36  
Old 08-28-2009, 03:30 PM
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The only time I support outing is if someone is actively participating in the discrimination of the group they secretly belong to.

So, Charlie Crist signs that anti-gay legislation? Charlie Crist's habits in the gay bars of Florida are fair game.

So, nasty move. I can understand it, but I don't support it.
  #37  
Old 08-28-2009, 03:41 PM
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Remember that this was in the 1970s before we had had the great debate on the subject of outing, so the political climate on the question within the movement was quite different. And the situation was so fraught that it's easy to see how Milk and co might have felt justified.

From our standpoint now, though, it's pretty clear that it was a dickish thing to do. Alas, angels of perfect purity tend to be few in number.
  #38  
Old 08-28-2009, 03:42 PM
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Regardless of one's views on the morality of Milk's action or the right to privacy, this completely misses the point. The right to privacy which SCOTUS has found/invented is the right to make private decisions for yourself without interference from the state.
You mean like deciding who knows about your sex life without having it blabbed all over by the city supervisor?

How is that not making a private decision for yourself, and having a member of the government overrule it?

Regards,
Shodan
  #39  
Old 08-28-2009, 03:44 PM
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Alas, angels of perfect purity tend to be few in number.
I've never understood that as an explanation for bad behavior. You don't have to be an angel to do the right thing.
  #40  
Old 08-28-2009, 03:49 PM
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You mean like deciding who knows about your sex life without having it blabbed all over by the city supervisor?

How is that not making a private decision for yourself, and having a member of the government overrule it?

Regards,
Shodan
I think the important distinction there is that he wasn't acting in his capacity as a city councilman when he outed Sipple. If Milk told someone to shut the hell up, it wouldn't be a violation of the first amendment just because Milk held government office.

That said, I agree that Milk's action was ethically indefensible.
  #41  
Old 08-28-2009, 04:27 PM
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As much as I sympathize with his motivation, I come down on the side that Milk's actions were unethical.

I'm not sure what sort of compensation Sipple should have received, however. His lawsuit failed, but did anything else go his way?
  #42  
Old 08-28-2009, 05:13 PM
Biffy the Elephant Shrew Biffy the Elephant Shrew is offline
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It strikes me as wrong that Harvey Milk is getting all the blame for Sipple's plight. It seems to me that Herb Caen is at least as culpable, and arguably more so. Just because Milk gave him the tip, Caen was under no obligation to run the item. Caen wasn't naive; he knew full well the social ramifications of exposing someone's homosexuality in 1975. He could have used some discretion.

Milk blabbed to one person, Caen blabbed to thousands.
  #43  
Old 08-28-2009, 05:54 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Milk blabbed to one person, Caen blabbed to thousands.
Well, yes.

But Caen wasn't just "one person;" Milk blabbed knowing that the result would be publication to thousands.

But you're right that Caen could have chosen not to run the item. He's a jerk as well for that decision.
  #44  
Old 08-28-2009, 06:04 PM
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I think the important distinction there is that he wasn't acting in his capacity as a city councilman when he outed Sipple.
He was acting in his capacity as the first gay city supervisor. It's like saying Obama isn't acting in his official capacity as President when he talks about race.

Milk based his whole career on the fact that he was gay, and that he was representing the gay community. He outed Sipple because Milk thought this would be good for gays.

Regards,
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  #45  
Old 08-28-2009, 06:07 PM
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I'll join the chorus condemning Milk's actions. I actually have an easier time understanding Caen printing it (it was sensationalistic, after all, and his career was dependent upon him enticing potential readers), but then, I didn't think too much of Caen to begin with.
  #46  
Old 08-28-2009, 06:23 PM
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He was acting in his capacity as the first gay city supervisor. It's like saying Obama isn't acting in his official capacity as President when he talks about race.
Well, yeah. Exactly. If Obama says in a press conference, "You know who I hate? White people," that's not a violation of the fourteenth amendment. If he proposes legislation outlawing white people, then it is. Similarly, Milk saying, "Oliver Sipple is a total 'mo," isn't a violation of his right to privacy. Milk introducing a resolution naming Tuesdays "Oliver Sipple is a Fag Day" would be.

Quote:
Milk based his whole career on the fact that he was gay, and that he was representing the gay community. He outed Sipple because Milk thought this would be good for gays.
Sure. But that doesn't make it an act of government.
  #47  
Old 08-28-2009, 07:14 PM
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Am I the only one who thinks "Oliver Sipple" sounds like a name from a dirty limerick?
  #48  
Old 08-28-2009, 07:36 PM
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I tried to come up with a reasonable devil's advocate defense of Milk, but I have to say it's extremely hard. It was a dickish move that doesn't reflect well on him at all.

On the one hand, you can sort of see it as being a different era, when homosexuality was much more stigmatized and oppressed than it is today, giving a moral impetus toward putting the end over the means. At the same time, those different circumstances made Milk's decision to publicly out Sipple all the weightier; it could well have ended with him homeless and totally cut off from his family.

And I'm skeptical that Sipple's outing actually did that great an amount of good for the movement, anyway.

Last edited by Zephyurs; 08-28-2009 at 07:39 PM.
  #49  
Old 08-28-2009, 10:50 PM
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The only gay people who deserve to be outed are the hypocrites who discriminate against gays while hiding their own sexuality. Oliver Sipple should have been the only one to decide, if ever, whether to announce his sexuality.
  #50  
Old 08-28-2009, 11:23 PM
kaylasdad99 kaylasdad99 is online now
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I think the court is saying that the issue was a matter of public concern.
Well, ultimately, of course that's what they're saying. ISTM though, that the passage above skips a few steps in the reasoning.
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