Why It Should Be Perfectly Legal to Call Someone a Fag


DEFAMATION NATION — While California wages war over whether gay men and women should continue to be second-class citizens under the law, another debate is rearing its head again: Does calling someone “gay” defame him? A quick Westlaw search yields a string of libel lawsuits against a person or publication for calling someone a homo. But defamation law and court precedent, while not black and white, make one thing pretty clear: In order for a defamation charge to hold up, one must prove a false statement damaged your reputation to a “substantial and respectable minority” of your community. And that’s where things are very, very gray.

Because it begs the question: Is it an egregious insult — the type that causes irreparable shame and embarrassment and damage to your reputation — to be called gay? If the answer is no, this matter is settled right now, and you can’t be libeled when someone calls you gay.

But it’s not that simple, since the positives and negatives of being called “gay” differs between communities — geographic, religious, political, and so on.


Being labeled “gay” — like Tom Cruise was by a porn star who alleged the two had a sexual relationship, and was handed a $10 million bill by the court — isn’t history’s only superlative with a negative connotation worth suing over. Slate points out calling someone a “Communist” at one time was considered defamation, as was accusing a white person of having “Negro blood.” But society’s stance on these terms, and whether false allegations about them truly damage one’s reputation, change with the times. A judge will laugh a white guy out of court if he tries suing somebody for claiming his tan skin is because of mixed race.

Which means the coming court ruling in New York — where Anna Nicole Smith hanger-on Howard K. Stern sued former MSNBC talking head Rita Cosby and her book’s sources for he is gay — will be the latest litmus test for whether having your sexual orientation speculated about is grounds for legal action. There, a judge will soon decide whether Stern’s defamation suit can move forward.

And I think we can all agree: it shouldn’t. Stern’s laughable attempt at celebrity aside, it’s ridiculous to think he was materially harmed by the accusation of being gay. But public figures, who make bank playing a straight guy, will argue that’s not the case — that any assertion they’re anything but opposite-sex lovers impacts their livelihood. That was Cruise’s assertion.

Except if we let people sue over being called gay, we’re letting the judicial system brand homosexuality as disparaging and pejorative way of life, so demeaning that to be identified as such warrants a cash apology. And while gay men and women may not be able to marry, we certainly deserve the civil right of not being equated with real, true defamation — like accusing someone of being a murderer or a child molester when they clearly are not.

After all, we’re not about to ring up our attorney when you mistakenly call us … straight.

Of course, the ultimate defense against defamation is the truth. And should Stern’s gay defamation lawsuit, or any other, move forward, there will be a witch hunt to find actual evidence that he’s a big ‘mo. And chances are, it’s out there. Fag.

Photo: FreakingNews.com

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  • Eminent Victorian

    This is a worthy debate topic, but the No. ! post-response is also apt.

    Too, Slate can go more than one day without a barrel full of grammatical, spelling, and syntactical errors.

  • Eminent Victorian

    Erm, the “No. 1” post-response that is. I’ll never work for Slate. I throw myself on the rocks!

  • damien

    The media has no right to falsely accuse someone of being gay if there’s no proof. I believe it can certainly damage someone’s reputation – especially if the claim comes from a “respectable” news outlet. Heck, if a bunch of respectable sources claimed that a popular news blog was actually run and written by a bunch of talented straight folks, it would certainly damage the blog’s reputation a little in the gay community, right?

    As much as I’d like to think that allowing such claims to go forward doesn’t cast a disparaging light on the term “gay”, I know we don’t live in that world yet. Until the person owns up to their sexuality publicly, it’s not the media’s business to accuse them of anything – no matter how much fun it is.

  • damien

    Hang on… Re-reading what I just wrote, it seems that I’m making no darn sense :)

    If you can make heads or tails out of it, then bless your little heart.

  • peter fortune

    when I was a randy hooker working a bar called Rounds way back when, I met a young actor named Tom – I took him back to my place and serviced him… this was when Rounds (on 53rd and 3rd) was still a classy joint frequented by closet celebs.

  • thatguyfromboston

    Cuz nothing classes up a joint like hookers.

  • Sebbe

    thatguyfromboston – LFMAO

    Howard K. Stern – yawn

    The underlying question is certainly valid though. Most times these suits are to extreme and brought to far, but there are many a case where they are valid and peruseable.

  • getreal

    @peter fortune: Dude the details. Please details!

  • Gary In Georgia

    @PearlsBeforeSwine: do you even read articles before you comment on them? because if we’re reading the same sentences on queerty, then we must have both seen the credit to slate.com:

    Being labeled “gay” — like Tom Cruise was by a porn star who alleged the two had a sexual relationship, and was handed a $10 million bill by the court — isn’t history’s only superlative with a negative connotation worth suing over. Slate points out calling someone a “Communist” at one time was considered defamation, as was accusing a white person of having “Negro blood.”

  • Joseph

    What a horrible article. How many times do you have to type “fag” in one article? This is such trash.

  • LikaStarr

    Here’s what I got out of this article:

    It’s okay for gays to call straights ‘fags’ but it’s not okay for straights to call gays ‘fags.’ Oh wait, that was the headline which was meant to be a controversial attention grabber. Yet the lesson I learned today was sealed with the last word.

    As for the rest of it, that’s up for debate. Personally I think it’s not okay to label someone a different sexual orientation than they are and that it could be considered defamation especially if it damages them financially. Think of what would happen to Ru Paul if a national news outlet falsely accused/outed him as straight and everyone believed it.

    The bigger problem is why we’re forced to have social labels in the first place.

  • niles

    I realized today that this site really does (self) hate the gays or fags as you like to call yourselves.

  • Sebbe

    @Joseph – Isn’t it only written once in the article and once in the title? Should the word be censored? What word would you use if you were a journalist to grab attention instead? Just wondering if I’m missing something here. I don’t see the big deal at all.

    Attacks commence!!

  • Phoenix (Still A Flamin' Sissy-boy Faggot...And Damn Proud Of It!)

    Once they do away with using “gay” as a slur I’m sure it will be a breeze to rid the English language of Abnormal, adventurous Aesthete, Aids Carrier, alternatively gendered, Amazon, Amy-John, Andro-Dyke, Angel, Anti-Man, Arse Bandit, Ass-Boy, Arse King, Auntie, Baby Bio, Baby Butch, Backgammon Player, Back Scuttler, Back Tickler, batting for the other team, Batty Boy, Batty Man, Bean Queen, Bear, bent, Botty Burglar, Bougie Man, bourgoise decadence, Brown Nose, Brown Hatter, Buffty, Bugger, Bull Dagger, Bum Boy, Butch Lite, Butterfly, Calamite, Carpet Muncher, Cat, Catamite, Cherry Picker, Chicken, Choc-box Attacker, Chocolate Chimney Sweep, Chocolate Soldier, Christmas Tree, Chubby Chaser, Chutney Ferret, Clam Jouster, Clone, Close Companion, Closet Case, Cissy, Cocoa Shunter, Cock Smoker, Cock Sucker, Colon Commander, Colwyn Bay, Comrade, Confirmed Bachelor, congenital inversion, Corn Holer, Cot Queen, cross wired, Curry Queen, Dangle Queen,
    deviant, Diesel Dyke, different, Dinge Queen, diverted, Doll, Dolly Dimples, Donut Puncher, Doormat Basher, Drainpipe Engineer, Drinking from the Furry Cup, Dyke, Dykosauros, Duke of Kent, Dung Puncher, effeminate, (The) English Disease, exotic, Exhaustpipe Engineer, Experiments of Nature, Fag, Faggot, Fairy, Faux Man, Finger Artist, Freak, Fribble, Friend of Dorothy, Frog Queen, Fruit, Fudge Packer, Gal-boy, Ganemede, Gentleman Butch, Gentleman of the Back Door, Ginger Beer, Gunsel, Hare, Heart valve, Hershey Highwayman, Hodgie, Hoer of the HP, Homo, Howard’s way, Ingle, Interested in Wheelbarrows, Intermediate Sex, International, In the Department, Invert, Invertebrate, Jack, Jacksie Rabbit, Jizz Jemmy, Jobby Jabber, John and Joan, Kiki, Kitkat Shuffler, Knob Jockey, Lamb, Lavender Menace, Left-handed, Lemon, Letting the Inside Out, Lettuce Licker, Lezzie, “like that”, Limp Wristed, Lipstick Butch, Longtime Companion, love of green, Mag Darling
    maladjusted, Manly-hearted Woman, Marmite Miner, Mary, Maud, Molly, Mox, Muff Diver, musical, Mutant, Myrtle, Navigator of the Windward Passage, Nelly, Nelly Duff, nervous, Never Married, Nick Vamp, not interested in the opposite sex, not the marrying kind, Nouvelle lesbian, Nudger, odd, Off the Planet, old blue, old bull, Omi-paloni, On the Other Bus, one of them, Opera Queen, Orchid Eater, Oriental, Other, Other Way, Paloni-omi, Pancake, Pansy, Pansy Without a Stem, Park Queen, peculiar, Pederast, Pegless Boy, Pervert, Pillow Biter, Pilot of the Chocolate Runway, Player of the Pink Oboe, Plymouth Fancy, Politically correct sex, Poof, Poo Pipe Pirate, Ponce, Putting from the Rough, Queen, queer, Queer Bird, Rear Admiral, Rear Gunner, Receiver of Swollen Goods, rent boy, Ring Pirate, Romantic Friend, Rubber Queen, Salad Tosser, Sausage Jockey, severe, Shirtlifter, Shit Sticker, simil-sexualist, Sissy, Snow Queen, s.o., Sodomite, Special Friend, Spinster, Studmuffy, Swedish, Swish, Temperamental, inclined that way, Third Sex, Tit King, touched, Trapeze Artist, Turd Burglar, Twank, Twink, unnatural, Uphill Gardener, uranian, urning, Vice Anglais, vile, Warm Brother, Warm Sister, Wazzy Akram, Wearing the Mask, Weasel, Willie Woofter, Wind Jammer, and Woofter.

  • JPinWeHo

    Sorry for the law school lesson, but here is the real issue. There are two forms of defamation. Normal defamation and defamation per se.

    Under normal defamation you have to show that you were actually monetarily damaged because of something someone said that was not true. Ex., if someone says that you have fake breasts, but they aren’t fake, you have to establish that those false statements caused you to lose $$$. It’s really hard to show that you were damaged.

    Under defamation per se, certain “scandalous” untrue allegations are “automatically” considered defamatory and you do not have to prove that you were financially damaged, making it much easier for you to win a $$$ verdict. Untrue statements, such as that someone is sexually promiscuous, has a sexually transmitted disease are the kinds of statements considered defamation per se.

    Essentially, the arguments in slate and queerty are really advocating that being accused of being gay (wrongly) should not be defamation per se – because it’s no longer true that an accusation of being gay (much like an accusation of being a communist, or being black) likely causes you damage. I agree with those arguments.

    However, I think that it’s fine to sue someone for wrongly accusing you of being gay (or straight for that matter) under normal defamation law. As long as you can actually prove that you are financially damaged (which is really hard), you should have the right to sue someone for spreading untrue statements about you, no matter what those statements are.

  • Michael vdB

    people still pay attention to proper syntax? I understand this is a quasi respectable blog…but it isn’t Time magazine. Give David a bit of a break. :)

    Love the comments though. lol.

  • Jon B

    Well… truth is an absolute defense to libel or slander, but not all defamation torts. Intrusion upon seclusion, another tort claim that could be used instead of libel or slander, does not depend on a false accusation. This tort has actually been used by gay men who didn’t want their identities revealed to the public.

    Either way, I agree, calling someone gay shouldn’t be a legally actionable offense.

  • Mister C


    Everyone uses these DAMN epithets every weekend @ the local watering hole. You know FAG,PUNK,C$CKSUCKER,FURBURGER,QUEEN etc.

    Just like some of you are quick to point other folks sins i.e African Americans on the NI&&ER thing. The same applies here if YOU don’t use it and become an example of not using it then THEY won’t neither!

    As far as legal action that’s absurd. Unless it’s done in a very defamatory way then so be it!

  • alan brickman

    after listening to gays using those same words at my gym I realize the only guys who can sue for damage to their reputation are the straight guys who get called those words by the gays….

  • alan brickman

    this is what Tom Cruise sued and won for….damage to his reputation and not because “he is not gay”….

  • Shawn

    I love the phrase “ginger beer” but I can’t quite figure out how it’s a slur. I guess I’m dense…is it a reference to “water sports?”

    Also, it is funny how many of the slurs that Phoenix lists refer to a lack of sexuality. It’s like the straight people who might use these terms think that if you’re not interested in hetero sex, then you’re not sexual.

    And NOTHING could be further from the truth, as I am sure we all know!

  • alan brickman

    Strange how you’re aloud to call everyone who isn’t gay a fag except those who actually are….

  • livvie


    ‘ginger beer’ is cockney rhyming slang. the rhyme is for ‘queer’.

  • Dan

    In some workplaces, you can get fired if someone alleges that you are gay. Depending on the setting, you can be ostracized or even assaulted. So I think it should be illegal, unless the person is openly gay and doesn’t mind. Keep in mind that fairly rigorous standards must be met in order to file and to win a lawsuit. Harrassment is a separate issue, and this article seems to conflate the two by using the phrase “calling someone gay.”

    Finally, I completely agree that words like “fag” aren’t OK. Those words represent extreme disrespect for gay people solely because they are gay. What are we saying about ourselves if we argue that it’s acceptable to call gay people insulting names, when just about everyone agrees that it’s dead wrong to do the same thing to black people? All demographic groups deserve the same respect.

Comments are closed.