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Lambda Legal Urges Federal Court to Reject Gay Defamation Claim

Gabriel Arana

March 13th, 2009

Lambda Legal has filed a brief in Howard K. Stern v. Rita Cosby et al., a defamation suit in which Howard K. Stern alleges he was defamed by being falsely labeled as gay. You can read more about the case and the issue here the brief is available here. The organization’s press release follows:

Saying that someone is gay is not an insult. Being identified as gay is neither bad nor shameful – in life and under the law.

NEW YORK — Today at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Lambda Legal filed a brief arguing that the Court should reject Howard K. Stern’s claim that being called gay is defamatory per se and entitles him to collect damages.

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

In 2007, Howard K. Stern filed a lawsuit claiming that he was defamed by passages in a book titled Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind the Death of Anna Nicole Smith. Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief argues that Stern’s first two claims of defamation rest on the flawed premise that being called gay would expose someone to public hatred and shame – a premise that is disproved daily throughout New York, including through the service of New York’s many openly gay and lesbian public officials. Validation of this type of defamation claim, and its underlying premise, would have a demeaning effect toward gay men and lesbians, similar to the effect caused by state sodomy laws before they were struck down by the US Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, Lambda Legal’s 2003 landmark victory. These claims are out of step with New York law and public policy, which has repeatedly affirmed the rights and dignity of gay men and lesbians.

Thomas W. Ude, Jr., Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal is handling the matter for Lambda Legal.



L. Junius Brutus
March 13th, 2009 | LINK

If you claim that a straight man is actually gay, you’re saying that he’s a closet case. It’s not the gay part that’s bad, but the part about lying about who you are.

Besides, I don’t want to be called straight either – and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong it with it.

Timothy Kincaid
March 13th, 2009 | LINK

I think it depends on the context.

If I was an Acclaimed Gay Writer who made my living off of speaking to to gay groups, then it would be defamatory to claim that I’m straight.

But, as best I can tell, Rita Cosby was just being a gossipy bitch. In which case it did Stern no harm.

March 13th, 2009 | LINK

Really, Timothy? A “gossipy bitch”? Whatever happened to class?

March 14th, 2009 | LINK

Sadly, school children and others still use it as a slur. Hopefully, it is losing its sting. But, I am glad about the court ruling.

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