She moved to Seattle about five years ago, but it wasn't until 2009 that I first noticed her. She was giving hell to a man named Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, who was drumming up an anti-gay campaign in Washington State. She outed his finances. She outed his associates. She outed his history of mounting homophobic campaigns while paying himself a lavish salary.
The hits kept coming. Blogging under the pseudonym "Lurleen" at Pam's House Blend, she screamed bloody murder when backers of an anti-gay referendum reported only their donors' initials, instead of the full names required by state disclosure rules. She went to their anti-gay rallies, took photos, blogged it all.
"I was pretty sure that the opposition was reading what I was writing," Lurleen says, explaining her decision not to write under her real name online. "I decided early on to use a pseudonym or pen name, because I wanted to feel out the territory first."
In midsummer 2009, when a battle over domestic-partnership rights was raging in Washington, Randall linked to a list of gay politicians on a blog that advised readers to use the list "first as a precursor for additional investigation before taking 'direct action.' ;-)"
"This was sort of like skinhead territory," Lurleen reflects. "If he thought it was okay to link to something like that, I felt that maybe I had made a wise decision to keep my identity quiet. Nobody else was poking the opposition daily like I was."
She succeeded in keeping her identity secret for years, until recently. On January 19, Randall hit back against his nemesis, writing on his blog: "'Lurleen' is Laurel Ramseyer."
How did he find her real name? It wasn't with help from like-minded agitators on the right. Instead, it was with help from gay and transgender bloggers, who revealed Lurleen's identity earlier this year. Leading the charge: transgender activist Katrina Rose, who announced on ENDAblog, "I'm outing her here as having committed an egregious act of transphobic cyber-bullying..."
The "egregious act"?
Ramseyer once deleted the profile of a commenter who alluded to her true identity in a comment thread on Pam's House Blend, wiping that commenter's entire history off the website. Ramseyer says it was an accident—she was just trying to delete the one comment.
But the bigger, underlying motivation seems to be a belief that Ramseyer was complicit in a massive gay conspiracy.
"Gay Inc.," as some LGBT bloggers call it, is ostensibly a well-heeled national network willing to fight for marriage rights for homosexuals while leaving behind—and even rejecting—equal rights for transgender people. Rose wrote that people involved with "Gay Inc." are willing to "bypass trans equality and move on to the non-trans issue of gay marriage."
And what, allegedly, links Ramseyer to "Gay Inc."?
In addition to her blogging, Ramseyer had been volunteering for Equal Rights Washington (ERW), a statewide LGBT equality group that was working to uphold the domestic-partnership law (it successfully defeated Randall's anti-gay campaign in November 2009). After that win, Ramseyer became ERW's volunteer new-media director. This, apparently, made her a tool.
Regardless of whether it was paranoid conspiracy theories or long-standing grudges that motivated her outing, being exposed was probably inevitable, says Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member of the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank. "The hacking community can almost always figure out who you are," McBride says. "There are some people who have valuable contributions who need to be anonymous, but I see most people abusing anonymity to just be mean."
In this case, though, Ramseyer wasn't using internet anonymity in order to be mean. She was using it in order to protect herself while she aggressively fought for gay rights. "I never in my wildest dreams expected a small group of people in the LGBT community to do something nasty to me," Ramseyer says. "I always expected it to come from the opposition."