New York Appeals Court Rejects Gay Defamation Claim

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May 31, 2012

Is it an insult to call someone gay? A New York State appeals court says no.

The Third Department of New York's Appellate Division rejected a claim that being described as lesbian, gay or bisexual is defamatory per se.

In April 2009, Mark Yonaty sued Jean Mincolla for slander because of a personal dispute in which Mincolla said that Yonaty was gay or bisexual. When the trial court denied Mincolla's motion to have that claim dismissed, she appealed that decision to the Third Department.

In January 2012, Lambda Legal and Empire State Pride Agenda filed a friend-of-the-court brief, in which we argued that continuing to recognize defamation claims based on statements that simply describe someone as lesbian, gay or bisexual cannot be reconciled with New York's public policy affirming the rights of people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney Thomas W. Ude Jr. says:

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.

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.

The Court's ruling is important because it brings New York defamation law in line with New York's public policy of protecting and respecting the dignity of people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.