Sexpert Bright sues Virginia!

Last July, a Virginia law began banning any Internet content it deemed "harmful for juveniles." Now free-speechers and cybersex gurus are fighting back.

Published October 25, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Oct. 25, 1999

Virginia, do you want your children to be "virgins" forever? Is that why you're screwing the Bill of Rights? To "protect" them?

Cyberspace doesn't care how old the finger on the mouse is, but presumably Old Dominion does. So on April 7, the General Assembly of this Southern state passed a porn-paranoid law to criminalize any "knowing" display on the Internet of commercial material deemed "harmful to juveniles." The new state law targets Virginia-based Internet sites. They could be taken to court or banned for all kinds of illicit content. The murkily defined but explicitly sex-censorious measure took effect July 1.

Although three other states (New Mexico, Michigan and New York) passed smut-scared regulations that criminalized Internet content, the federal courts found the laws unconstitutional. Now Virginia's effort to establish itself as a Christian fundamentalist "family values" oasis is also being contested. On Oct. 6, 16 plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria against the new measure, claiming it violates the First Amendment and the commerce clause of the Constitution.

Since then the coalition of free-speech advocates, sexperts, media companies, authors, nonprofit groups and bookstores has rallied together to fight the anti-cybersex law. Along with author Harlan Ellison, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and A Different Light Bookstores and others, Salon columnist and sex writer Susie Bright has recently joined the battle. Since announcing her participation last week, she says, she has "heard from a lot of people who are thrilled to have someone take this nonsense on."

What exactly is the Virginia legislature getting its panties in a twist about? Is it cyber-savvy teens who accidentally surf across safe-sex info or discover whole online bookstores of gay literature? Critics say the bill is dangerously broad and could prohibit the transmission of important information for youth. One of the plaintiffs, People For the American Way, a nonprofit dedicated to free speech, has decried the bill as banning "valuable communications, such as business transactions and the dissemination of health information."

Poor Virginia! Her personality is so erratic! While the AOL-headquarters state waves in Internet investors with one friendly hand, the other repressive paw frantically pushes them out.

By Hank Hyena

Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon.

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