Updated, March 14, 2018, 1 p.m. PT: Richard Simmons just took a big hit in his legal battle against tabloids that falsely reported he was in seclusion because he was transitioning from male to female.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 14, 2018
A judge just ruled Simmons is responsible to pay $130,000 in legal fees to the National Enquirer and Radar Online, six months after his lawsuit was dismissed. The judge agreed with arguments made in past cases that reporting a person is trans is not libel because it is not (or should not be) inherently damaging to a person’s reputation to be associated with the LGBTQ community.
Original story, published May 8, 2017: Richard Simmons’ days of sweatin’ to the oldies may be over, but the 68-year-old is still plenty spirited — he’s now getting his blood pumping by going toe-to-toe with tabloid magazines.
Although speculation surrounding the former fitness star has run wild over the last few years, Simmons clearly hasn’t lost his capacities as has been suggested. Rather, he moved forward on Monday with a multi-complaint lawsuit against National Enquirer, Radar Online and American Media, Inc. for “unflattering” and “hurtful” reports.
The libel complaint, which focuses on a series of “cruel and malicious” articles published between June 2016 and March 2017, takes specific issues with claims Simmons was secretly undergoing a sex change or transitioning.
Calling the conduct of the publications “particularly egregious” for cynically assuming Simmons wouldn’t sue out of fear for being pegged as disapproving of the trans community, the lawsuit made some salient points about truth, privacy and the problem with exploiting LGBTQ issues.
A copy of the complaint obtained by The Hollywood Reporter reads, “The National Enquirer and Radar Online have cheaply and crassly commercialize and sensationalized an issue that ought to be treated with respect and sensitivity. Principles of freedom of speech and press may protect their prerogative to mock and degrade the LGBTQ community. But freedom to speak is not freedom to defame. Mr. Simmons, like every person in this nation, has a legal right to insist that he not be portrayed as someone he is not. Even the most ardent supporter of sexual autonomy and LGBTQ rights is entitled to be portrayed in a manner that is truthful.”
Of course, the suit wades into tricky territory, as it could be misconstrued as implying it is shameful to be associated as a member of the trans community. In 2012, in fact, a New York appeals court ruled defamation suits centered on sexuality are “based on the flawed premise that it is shameful and disgraceful to be described as lesbian, gay or bisexual.”
To Simmons’ credit, perhaps what he is trying to do is underscore that the more tabloids sensationalize transitioning and setting it apart as something worthy of salacious headlines, the more shock-value it will have — and the harder it will be for members of the trans community and trans advocates fighting tirelessly for normalcy.
Radar has now responded with a scathing condemnation of the law suit on their website. In it they chastise Simmons saying, “For Mr. Simmons to now claim that his privacy has been invaded is hypocritical when his entire livelihood is based upon the public consumption of his image.” That’s a pretty serious policing of someone’s actions. Radar and The National Inquirer are clearly on the defensive.
They also go on to threaten Simmons, “We stand by our reporting about Mr. Simmons, and intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit and win public vindication of our reports. We will also aggressively pursue our ongoing investigation into his life and who is really behind this bizarre and meritless lawsuit.” That’s a pretty intense double down. The insinuation that Simmons also isn’t directly behind the lawsuit, and is perhaps a puppet, or not aware of what he’s doing, is a bit condecending.
Lastly, the publications also made it a point to weaponize Simmons’ suit against him, suggesting he is the one who is transphobic, “Indeed, it is ironic that Mr. Simmons claims to be an avid supporter of the LGBTQ community while at the same time alleges that he was defamed by Radar and The ENQUIRER report that he had transitioned into a female.” There’s a difference between being against a certain idea, and not simply wanting to be called something because it’s just not true. We’ll have to stay tuned to figure that out as the scenes unfold in court. Stay tuned for updates.