Aug Sept 2016
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Lesbian Feminist Cathy Brennan Sues AfterEllen for Defamation

Lesbian Feminist Cathy Brennan Sues AfterEllen for Defamation

UPDATE: AfterEllen has responded to the lawsuit with an article by editor in chief Trish Bendix. This report has been edited to include her statement on behalf of her website as well as a link to the court document.

Cathy Brennan, an activist who is ofted described as a "trans-exclusionary radical feminist," is suing a journalist and the company that owns the website AfterEllen. The Maryland-based lawyer, blogger, and ardent feminist claims she was defamed by an article saying she harasses, outs and "doxxes" transgender women.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Baltimore, defines "doxxing" as the act of publishing private information about an individual, typically with malicious intent. The complaint claims the writer maligned Brennan by saying she “digs up private information about a group of individuals who are trying to hide their identity and then exposes their identity to the public.”

Brennan, 45, said Tuesday, “The suggestion that I am doxxing anyone … is simply absurd,” according to The Daily Record, a Maryland legal paper.

Transgender activists and other Brennan critics, who often cite her as a leading "TERF," contend she has indeed engaged in the practice. In September 2013, for instance, she sent a well-publicized letter to the doctor of a trans activist. She claimed the activist had harassed her and other women online. In that letter, Brennan wrote that based on her interactions with the woman, she believed the doctor had "a professional obligation to know about his patient's mental health.”

Brennan's lawsuit states she does not support “irrational discrimination” against transgender people, but she made it clear in a July interview with The Advocate that she is strongly opposed to legislation to “afford biological males protection at the expense of the rights of women and girls,” as also stated in the lawsuit.  

The suit “is not in any way about [Brennan's] beliefs,” her attorney James B. Astrachan told The Daily Record. “This is about her right to express her beliefs and not be maligned while she’s doing it.”

The article cited in the suit was written by lesbian feminist Joey Stevenson of San Francisco. It deals with the final Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and was published July 23 on AfterEllena website geared toward queer women and owned by Evolve Media.

AfterEllen editor in chief Trish Bendix published a response to Brennan's lawsuit online Friday, specifically addressing the question of doxxing and holding firm to the claim that Brennan does exactly that: 

“Even more bizarre, she posted a photo of our writer on her blog and tweeted about her whereabouts in since deleted tweets, of which we retain screenshots.
 
“This is not the first time Ms. Brennan has threatened legal action against a publication for bringing this to light, and we have already received support from other LGBT journalists, publications and activists who have had similar issues with the self-identified ‘radical feminist’ in the past.”
Bendix goes on to counter the lawsuit with an olive branch, offering a forum for Brennan to state her views: 

“If Ms. Brennan would rather have an open and constructive discussion of the issues, rather than attempting to stifle the debate through a lawsuit, we would be happy to engage with her. We encourage her to have a conversation with us; an interview we will post on AfterEllen. If any positives can come out of a situation like this, it’s hopefully the chance to elevate the discussion and create some meaningful dialogue around women, safety and the amount of space one community can create for all of its many different identities.”

Stevenson's article refers to the controversy over admitting trans women to MichFest, with Stevenson writing that "blaming trans women for MichFest’s end would be like blaming workers for shutting down a business because they went on strike for fair wages." She said the idea that her identity as a cisgender (nontrans) woman could be threatened by a transgender woman’s identity was "as ludicrous as the idea that legalizing gay marriage will undermine the institution of marriage for heterosexuals."

And then she turned to Brennan, saying the chief problem in "blaming trans women for the loss of lesbian space is that it supports the trans misogynist work of radical feminists," like Brennan.

"Brennan posts on how men are ‘pretending’ to be women to enter women’s spaces and inflict sexual violence, in addition to harassing and doxxing trans women on her websites. This is exponentially problematic because capitalism and assimilation are why we are losing lesbian spaces. Somehow logic gets twisted to place the blame onto our sister’s bodies thus creating an army of trans misogynistic lesbians along the way. I do not want the word lesbian to become synonymous with trans misogyny."

The suit claims Stevenson’s article on AfterEllen made a reference to an item Brennan blogged in 2013 on Gender Identity Watch. That is one of several blogs owned by Brennan, devoted to “tracking legislation and case law that attempts to codify ‘gender identity’ into law and to override protections based on sex,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit claims that Stevenson referred to Brennan posting a letter from a conservative group that named a Colorado transgender girl who was accused of harassing other girls in their high school restroom. It turned out that the entire claim of harassment was debunked by the school superintendent, who said it was concocted by upset parents.

Stevenson's story, however, does not specifically cite that instance. Brennan acknowledged to The Daily Record that Stevenson did not mention any specific incidents in which Brennan allegedly violated a person’s privacy. “It is very difficult to try to refute a general statement,” she said.

The suit seeks monetary damages of at least $70,000 and an injunction to prevent any further defamation. 

You can see the electronic version of the lawsuit filed in Baltimore here, and read the response from AfterEllen's Trish Bendix in full here.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been edited to remove the name of the trans activist who has been widely cited as someone "doxxed" by Cathy Brennan in September 2013, at her request. 

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