Richard Simmons is currently trying to sue the National Enquirer and Radar Online for defamation. The outlets published a series of articles claiming he was transitioning. But the judge presiding over the case just pointed out that being called transgender isn’t an insult.
The Hollywood Reporter shared L.A. Superior Court Judge Gregory Keosian’s findings.
“[A]lthough it is true that Simmons would not need to introduce any evidence of reputational damage to proceed in a defamation cause of action seeking only the emotional damages caused by the allegedly defamatory statement, Simmons must be able to show, as a threshold matter, that the allegedly defamatory statement on its face was the type of statement that would ‘naturally tend’ to injure one’s reputation,” writes Keosian.
The court has yet to make an official ruling. However the court is making it clear it plans to treat the issue of claiming someone is transgender the same way it would treat claims of race, illness or other “immutable characteristics.”
“This court finds that because courts have long held that a misidentification of certain immutable characteristics do not naturally tend to injure one’s reputation, even if there is a sizeable portion of the population who hold prejudices against those characteristics, misidentification of a person as transgender is not actionable defamation absent special damages,” writes Keosian.
He explains that as societal perceptions have changed over the decades. So too has whether false statements based on things like sexuality, race and illness are libelous.
“Here, the court notes that neither a medical condition, nor race, nor sexuality are a perfect analogy to the issue we address today, but acknowledges that being transgender shares several important characteristics with all three,” writes Keosian. “Being transgender is an issue that often (although not always) requires a medical diagnosis and medical intervention. Like race, being transgender is an immutable characteristic. Although there is no connection between homosexuality and being transgender, both characteristics relate to sex and gender.”
At a hearing on Wednesday, Simmons’ attorneys argued that the court should confront the reality of the harms that transgender people face, rather than assume an ideal world where such harms do not exist.
“There are giant segments of society in this country who endorse the kind of prejudice and hatred and shunning of transgender persons in a way that is dramatically different than the way we treat race in this country,” argued attorney Rodney Smolla, on behalf of Simmons.
“The object of the National Enquirer was to do everything they could to humiliate this person,” added attorney Neville Johnson, also representing Simmons. “They made it up entirely out of whole cloth. I submit that when you make something up intentionally… and put it on the cover, there’s an inference you can make that somebody’s reputation is going to be harmed.”
Keosian found that being transgender may subject a person to hatred, contempt or ridicule from a portion of the population, but “the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them.”