Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Freed was intent as she listened to oral arguments on February 20 in a bizarre case in which LGBTQ Trump supporters are suing the LGBT Community Center and others for discrimination, defamation, and cyberbullying after an event the MAGA crowd had scheduled there was cancelled.
There are major questions about the suit’s viability and the plaintiff’s ability to prove any of their allegations. In the latest hearing, defendants — which include the Center as well as activists Jason Rosenberg and Gordon Beeferman — put forth motions to dismiss the case, which also names the Center’s executive director, Glennda Testone, and staffer Gabriel Farofaldane.
Brandon Straka, who in 2018 launched the #WalkAway movement to try to convince folks to ditch the Democratic Party in favor of the Trumped GOP, rented space at the Center for a town hall event in March of last year, where he planned to speak alongside Blaire White, Mike Harlow, and Rob Smith. After the plans sparked controversy about some of the would-be speakers’ well-documented history of bigoted rhetoric, the event was eventually scrapped — and Straka was refunded the $650 fee for the space.
White, who is transgender, once made a white power sign and said in a Facebook post, “if he ain’t Aryan, we ain’t marryin,” while Straka has tweeted that non-binary and genderqueer identities are “make-believe positions.” He further dismissed non-binary people in a separate tweet, saying, “I’m pretty sure transgender people will be the first to say that there are two genders.” Straka has also shared photos of himself alongside alt-right former Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, who was seen on video singing at a Dallas karaoke bar in 2016 while white supremacists including Richard Spencer stood nearby making Nazi salutes, according to Buzzfeed.
Among the voices who were critical of the planned meeting at the Center were Rosenberg and Beeferman. Rosenberg ripped the Center about the issue in a tweet on March 19 of last year when he wrote, “Like are y’all that desperate for money? This is incredibly egregious that you’d host an event where panelists have used queer slurs and stood behind policies that put the community at great risk. Stand for something. SOMETHING.”
As Gay City News has reported, the legal team backing Straka, White, and Harlow (Smith is not part of the suit) is pushing a rather unusual narrative — that the event’s cancellation amounts to sexual orientation discrimination because the plaintiffs’ expression of their LGBT identity differs from others’.
At the February 20 hearing, J. Remy Green, a partner at Cohen & Green who represents Rosenberg and Beeferman, argued that their clients were merely expressing their opinion and they noted that the plaintiffs are public figures who have appeared on cable TV networks. Public figures bear a higher burden of proof against those they accuse under libel and defamation law. Green described the nature of the filing by the plaintiffs’ attorneys as “shocking.”
The plaintiffs’ legal team, led by Manny Alicandro and Richard Zarco, invoked the cyberbullying charges and said their clients were falsely accused of being transphobic and anti-Semitic simply because they have different political views. They also charged that in cancelling the event, the Center impugned their clients as posing “an impending danger” to those using the West 13th Street facility. They argued that their clients posed no such danger to the community and that the defendants were simply trying to “stifle any speech they didn’t agree with.”
The Center’s legal team, led by Kevin Loftus, a partner at O’Connor, McGuinness, Conte, Doyle, Oleson, Watson & Loftus, sought to poke holes in the accusations by arguing that there was no discrimination on the basis of anyone being gay and that, in any event, the allegations against the Center must include evidence of intent. The Center’s attorneys then cited Straka’s tweets dismissing non-binary identities to justify cancelling the event, calling the rhetoric “unacceptable” to the institution’s mission.
Justice Freed made no ruling as the hearing concluded. As reported by Gay City News, the defendants first moved to dismiss the suit in August of last year when Loftus argued, “The facts as alleged in plaintiffs’ complaint fail to establish an intent to discriminate on the basis of plaintiffs’ sexual orientation and/ or gender identity” and that “Plaintiffs simply make conclusory allegations and over-exaggerated claims regarding a simple contract dispute.”
At that time, Loftus also pushed back against the allegations when he said the Center’s statement cancelling the event was not defamatory or an example of cyberbullying. Further, Loftus said “no interpretation of any act or statement made by The LGBT Community Center defendants are actionable under the theories espoused by the plaintiffs.”
In a separate August filing last August, Green also blasted the lawsuit.
“As filed, the lawsuit fails to state or even gesture at a single legally supportable claim against Gordon Beeferman or Jason Rosenberg,” Green wrote. “The complaint sufficiently identifies one statement [each by] Beeferman and Rosenberg, a tweet that does not mention a single defendant, and an open letter you allege was ‘principally drafted’ and signed by defendant Gordon Beeferman.”