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December 8, 2009

Since When is Being Called Gay a Malicious Rumor?

Earlier this year we wrote about how much we liked Hugh Jackman's response to rumors that he was gay:

“I’d be happy to go and deny it, because I’m not, but by denying it, I’m saying there is something shameful about it, and there isn’t anything shameful.”
So I guess this one goes under "how not to deny being gay"? Taking a lesson from the "Tom Cruise school of gay denial", Ron Livingston, star of Office Space, is suing an unnamed Internet user for spreading "malicious" rumors online that he's gay and in a relationship with a man [TMZ via Huffington Post].

Apparently the anonymous Internet user has repeatedly over the year made changes to Livingston's Wikipedia page saying that he is homosexual and in a relationship with a man named Lee Dennison. The same person has also been accused of creating fake Facebook profiles for Livingston and Dennison and listing them as "in a relationship" together. In real life, Livingston is married to his female Standoff co-star Rosemarie Dewitt.

I understand being annoyed if there are lies about you being spread around and it sucks to have to defend who you are, but is someone saying you're gay really a "malicious" rumor?

Now, I think there are definitely legitimate reasons for Livingston to sue, but being called gay really isn't one of them. He is suing for libel, invasion of privacy and for using his name and likeness without permission, but for some reason the media keeps focusing on the gay angle. Check out the way the story has been framed:

Ron Livingston Sues Over Gay Rumors [Courthouse News]

'Office Space' Star: Yo Wikipedia, I'm not Gay! [TMZ]

Ron Livingston: 'Office Space' Star Battles 'Malicious' Gay Rumors Online [Huffington Post]

Ron Livingston Sues Wikipedia Over Gay Rumors [The Inquisitr]

Ron Livingston Sues Wikipedia Detractor for Saying He’s Gay [Mashable]

Ron Livingston Sues Unknown Prankster for Calling Him Gay on Wikipedia [Celebitchy]

Ron Livingston: 'I'm Not Gay!' [Your Tango]

Ron Livingston Sues to Stop Wikipedia 'Gay' Hacker [The Wrap]

Why aren't there any articles about how Ron Livingston is fighting back against an Internet stalker who is harassing and impersonating him online? Why focus on the gay part when it's really the invasion of privacy and the fake Facebook accounts that are the problem?

It's unclear to what extent the gay thing plays in Livingston's actual lawsuit. We think that celebrities should absolutely have the right to protect themselves from hackers, stalkers, and liars... but we think it's shitty to focus on being called gay as a "malicious" rumor.

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Kt said...

"Malice" is a legal term of art, and is a fairly necessary part of the legal pleadings involved in a libel suit. It would probably have been part of the complaint to the court, and that's most likely where the media is picking it up. It doesn't mean "malicious" per se, just that there is malice behind the action.

I think this is probably more of a semantic problem, honestly. In order to succeed in a libel suit, malice is a fairly important thing to prove if you want to get damages - it's basically the same as saying "intent", here.

Anonymous said...

The issue though is that the media is spinning the story as though it's horrible to be called gay. There's the legal terminology and then there's the connotation that every day readers will associate with that word.

(I'm not even sure that this is malicious in the legal sense, unless you can argue that being called gay causes him some kind of injury... which only reinforces the thought that being gay is something bad to be called.)

The real problem here isn't that he's being called gay - it's that he's being stalked, harassed and impersonated.

Kt said...

Yes, that's the point I was trying to address. We agree. But the libel pleadings stated "malicious", and therefore the media ran "malicious rumors!". Are they doing it with a guilty conscience, intentionally trying to mislead the public? Maybe. It IS the media.

But the whole first part of this blog post is saying LIVINGSTON is going about it wrong, that he's demonstrating "how NOT to deny being gay". And that although "it sucks" and he has every right to be "annoyed", that he's somehow doing something wrong. And I'm saying that his legal pleadings (using malice as a term of art) have NOTHING to do with the media's (and your) interpretation of the word. Yeah?

And yes, it's malice in the legal sense. Malice does not address the TYPE of rumor created, but the mindset of the person creating it. If you want to look up the caselaw, check out New York Times v. Sullivan, which is the landmark case on libel of a public figure. The court held: (the definition of) "actual malice" - that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false."

So we've got Livingston writing to the court and calling the rumors "falce and malicious". In his LEGAL pleadings. Which is entirely correct - that the rumors are untrue, and that the man KNEW they were untrue when he spread them. Period. As far as I can tell, from the info you posted, he's not saying anything at all negative about being gay. Does that make more sense? I'm defending Livingston here, not the media.

Anonymous said...

Kt, I understand everything that you're saying... except for... exactly why you are saying it all. Rather than repeat myself I'm just going to quote myself:

I think there are definitely legitimate reasons for Livingston to sue, but being called gay really isn't one of them.

The main issues here are NOT whether or not he has the legal right to sue or whether the actions qualify as "malicious" or not. So, thanks so much for "explaining" it to us, but you're still missing the point.

The actual issues we're concerned with are whether being called gay is something worth suing over, whether a lawsuit is the best way to respond to gay rumors, and why the media is choosing to sensationalize the story by focusing on the "gay rumor" aspect and their misleading use of the term "malicious".

I thought it was sort of obvious that the "how not to deny you're gay" thing was a joke (in comparison to the Hugh Jackman quote, which is a great way to deny being gay). As far gay denial methods go, a lawsuit is probably not the most tactful approach if you want to not come off homophobic.

But then later we did clarify that our main issue is with the media (and that we don't know how large a role the gay thing plays in Livingston's actual lawsuit vs. the media's portrayal).

So what exactly are you trying to defend?

Kt said...

You wrote: "I understand being annoyed if there are lies about you being spread around and it sucks to have to defend who you are, but is someone saying you're gay really a "malicious" rumor?"

This is the quote I was responding to. In this quote, you're "addressing" Mr. Livingston directly, and seem to be accusing him of believing that being called gay is a "malicious" rumor. I was simply clarifying that he wasn't calling the rumors malicious in the traditional sense, but in the legal sense. I agree with you that the media might be blurring that line for sensationalism.

You say you didn't mean it that way, which is great. I'm sorry that I misunderstood you.

As a side note, he's suing because someone is constantly lying about him - to me, no matter WHAT those lies are, it's something to sue over. As a public figure, monitoring his image is a main priority, and yes, being a "out" gay actor is STILL different to Hollywood, even in this day and age. There are some exceptions (Neil Patrick Harris comes to mind), but you can't claim that being thought of as gay is going to HELP his career, with no negative repercussions. Seems like there will be some harm. Add the frustration of being thought something he's not? Justifiable lawsuit, to me.

I understand why you don't want "gay as a negative". I wholeheartedly agree. But to say that he should think twice before suing over lies about his sexual life, simply because you think it might ALSO portray being actually gay as a bad thing? I guess my questions then are: 1)How could he control how the media misrepresents his lawsuit? and 2) If he shouldn't sue, how else is he to stop this person?

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to continue to repeat myself.

Thank you for your comments.

mags said...

This is so stupid, He can never prove he's not gay anyway, he can only prove he's not living with that guy. But most importantly who cares if he's gay or not?????

Anonymous said...

Great article!

Here is my view. :-)

Unfortunately, the word "gay" is seen by some as harmful, and I doubt very much that will change any time soon.

If I was in the same position, that being my public information being changed constantly to state I was "gay" with a career in the limelight, I too would sue. However, it would depend on how the media react. Do you think Livingston would be suing if the industry he works in was capable of accepting it as a 'normal' thing? [thinks...] All this week, I've been reading articles about how some actors say that 'coming out' has ruined their career. That is truly shocking to read! Whether it is true, I wouldn't know, but by Livingston's reaction there must be some truth, otherwise he wouldn't have took serious action.

In another view, I look at it as Livingston is fighting to keep his private life private, which is rare for well known actors and actresses to have, but by doing so people will magnify on the word "gay" as it can easily divide people even though that may not be his 'main' reason for suing.

I personally find it all silly and I don't see why printing articles like that makes magazines/newspapers sell. On a positive side, if they hadn't, then your article wouldn't have been typed up! ;-)

Thanks again.

P.S I'm not good at explaining, nor typing up good articles, but what I do enjoy is sharing my opinion. :-D No harm intended!

Chris said...

As much as I think it's a poor reaction to it, the guy who's trashing him is going WAAAAAY out of his way to impersonate him online.

I don't think the lawsuit is so much that he's worried about being considered gay as the troll is being creepy by trying to insert false information about his life.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree Chris. I don't know officially how much of a role the gay rumor plays in the lawsuit, but it should (and hopefully does) focus on the methods more than the content. What's really shitty is the way the media is portraying the story as "hey, don't call me gay Wikipedia!" when it shouldn't be (and probably isn't) about that.