WATCH YOUR MOUTH

Appeals Court Rejects Slander Case: “Being Gay Is Neither Bad Nor Shameful”

A litigant hoping to push a slander lawsuit against a woman who called him gay is going home empty-handed today: The New York Appeals Court has just ruled that calling someone gay or bisexual is no more an insult than calling them a redhead or Irish.

Three years ago, Mark Yonaty sued Jean Mincolla for slander because during an argument she claimed he was gay. Initially, Mincolla’s motion to have the case dismissed was rejected by the courts but she appealed to the New York’s Appellate Court.  In January, Empire State Pride Agenda and Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief  that argued viewing sexual orientation as a basis for defamation was at odds with how the state recognizes the rights of gays and lesbians.

Today the courts agreed.

“At its core, defamation is about disgrace. Recognition of this defamation claim would demean gay men and lesbians by giving credence to anti-gay biases that New York has repeatedly rejected,” stated Thomas W. Ude, Jr., Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal.  “Saying that someone is gay is not an insult. Being identified as gay is neither bad nor shameful—not in our society, and not under the law.”

 

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9 Comments

  • Kev C

    Misidentifying a straight person as gay can result in negative social consequences, just as misidentifying an openly gay person as straight can also result in negative social consequences. If someone started spreading rumours that Dan Savage is actually a straight man, it could damage his reputation. If someone was seeking asylum from an oppressive anti-gay regime, rumours of them being heterosexual could prevent them from gaining asylum. The court is disregarding common sense for political correctness.

  • Maxilimus

    Someone went to court because someone else call them gay? They they ever been on the internet?

  • Clockwork

    Interesting case: What if she called him bisexual, f*****, a queen, or a queer?

    Instead of Empire State Pride Agenda and Lambda Legal, this looks like a case for the Man from GLAAD.

  • Lifer

    I thought the law was about intent and she did intend to demean him.

  • ajax

    Since this case was filed in a country in which one can be fired because one is gay, this ruling, and the actions of our gay “legal advocates” leaves me with a HUGE WTF moment.

  • Jim H.

    This actually isn’t that new; various courts have been reaching similar holdings for years now. In most jurisdictions, a libel/slander claimant needs to show that the statement was defamatory, meaning that it would cause a reasonable person to view the claimant in a bad light. Understandably, some courts don’t want to rule that being thought of as gay is a reasonable basis to have your reputation harmed.

    Unfortunately, this denies compensation to people whose rights WERE harmed due to the fact that the courts’ vision of what society should look like does not presently exist. In this way, these kinds of rulings amount to little more than wishful thinking at plaintiffs’ expense.

  • Jakey

    @Lifer: How do you know she intended to demean him? The argument could have been, like, they were dating and she was breaking up with him because she suspected he was gay.

  • Jakey

    @Jim H.: “Unfortunately, this denies compensation to people whose rights WERE harmed due to the fact that the courts’ vision of what society should look like does not presently exist.”

    Does it? I’m fuzzy on this. If there’s an actual consequence—like if this happened in a state where that can get you fired, and was falsely said for that purpose, and a firing did result—isn’t it still a crime to provide false information to get someone fired, regardless of what the false information is?

  • Jim H.

    @Jakey: Generally, no. For example, if I falsely state on a radio show that you are an Android fan, it’s conceivable that Apple could fire you for being a traitor, being uncool, or whatever. But you would not have a defamation claim because there is nothing about being an Android user that would tend to lower your esteem in the general community. It doesn’t matter that SOME people think you’re the spawn of Satan now; what matters is some community wide standard. My example is contrived, but false allegations of LGBT-ness are a very realistic example of how this standard can fail to deliver justice. Even in a place like San Francisco, there is certainly a sizable chunk of the community that would still judge you harshly for being gay. As it stands, you wouldn’t have any recourse.

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