Judge Rules With BET: Asking Trans Host To Change Is Protected By First Amendment

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 2.25.45 PMNoted androgynous TV personality B. Scott (who came out as transgender amid this controversy) has reportedly lost the $2.5 million lawsuit he brought against BET last year, in which he claimed to have been discriminated against based on his gender expression.

Yesterday, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Yvette Palazuelos granted an anti-SLAPP motion that ruled it was BET’s First Amendment right to maintain creative control over wardrobe decisions made to convey a specific image.

The suit was filed against BET and its parent company Viacom after producers asked B. Scott to change into something more “tempered” to host the BET Awards pre-show special. The host reportedly arrived to the gig in a “sheer tunic, palazzo pants and stilettos” and later changed into a pants and a blazer, as directed by a producer.

In the suit, Scott claims he was “literally yanked backstage and told that and told that he ‘wasn’t acceptable.'” According to the complaint, “B. Scott was told to mute the makeup, pull back his hair and was forced to remove his clothing and take off his heels; thereby completely changing his gender identity and expression. They forced him to change into solely men’s clothing, different from the androgynous style he’s used to, which he was uncomfortable with.”

Scott alleged that the actions were discriminatory based on a series of internal emails between BET employees that demanded he look more “tempered.” Judge Palazuelos noted that “the argument is stronger with respect to the instant action, as Defendants were directing decisions about Plaintiff’s on-air appearance after already hiring Plaintiff.”

The Hollywood Reporter likens judge Palazuelos’ decision to a similar decision in favor of The Bachelor allegedly racially discriminating during the casting process. “The same logic applies,” Palazuelos wrote, “as Defendants allegedly made decisions about the creative vision of the television program. If casting decisions are protected speech, then logic dictates that decisions about wardrobe, style, and whether to appear with or without a co-host, also fall within the protection of the First Amendment as these decisions impact ‘the end product marketed to the public.”

B. Scott issued a statement this morning confirming that he will appeal the decision and “does not feel defeated”:

It disheartens me that the message sent today wasn’t a message of acceptance, but rather it’s acceptable to discriminate against transgender individuals on the basis of their gender identity and expression  – and that such discriminatory acts are protected under the first amendment.

Although I’m saddened by what today’s verdict means for myself and other members of the LGBTQ community, the struggle is not over. I will pursue progress and human rights for our community through the Appellate Court where I hope that my unique set of circumstances and BET/Viacom’s treatment of me will collectively yield active legislation to prevent anyone else from having to suffer as I have – without networks being able to disguise their unlawful discriminatory practices with vague, umbrella terms like ‘creative privilege’.

I’m committed to change, progress, human rights and equality for all, and by no means do I feel defeated.

Scott’s attorney Waukeen McCoy added “I am optimistic that we will win transgender rights on appeal as the law in this area is evolving.”