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Virginia Republican Politician Sues Over Being Called 'Gay Democrat'

Virginia Delegate Glenn Davis
Virginia Delegate Glenn Davis

Del. Glenn Davis, who is seeking to become lieutenant governor of Virginia, says that's defamation. But some courts have said it's not.

A politician seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Virginia has filed a defamation suit over being called "a gay Democrat" in an anonymous text message.

Glenn Davis, currently a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, filed the suit Tuesday in Norfolk Circuit Court, asking for $450,000 in damages, The Washington Post reports. "Jane Doe" is named as defendant.

The text message, sent to multiple recipients, promoted one of Davis's rivals for the nomination, former Del. Timothy D. Hugo, as "the only conservative running for Lt. Governor." It mentioned Davis's efforts to repeal Virginia's state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (now struck down) and included a photo of him at an LGBTQ+ event.

Six candidates are running for the Republican nomination; the nominee will be chosen Saturday at a state party convention. The text urged those attending the convention to "Help Glenn come out of the closet by not ranking him on May 8th," the Associated Press reports.

Davis is a moderate Republican who has been married to a woman for 16 years. "These unethical, illegal, and scandalous tactics are detrimental to our party, civil discourse, and the efforts underway to win back Virginia for Republicans in November," he said in a statement announcing the suit. "I want it to be very clear that we will soon discover which campaign and bad actors were behind this text and they will be sued to the full extent allowed by Virginia law."

His lawyer, he said, will ask a judge to order telecommunications company Onvoy to reveal who paid for the text message. Hugo told the Post his campaign was not behind the message, which he called "ridiculous and offensive." Officials with his campaign expressed support for Davis's suit.

In recent years, some courts have held that falsely claiming someone is gay is not defamatory. A judge in a New York State appeals court ruled in 2012 that previous decisions equating the words "lesbian, gay or bisexual" with defamation were based on a "false premise that it is shameful and disgraceful." Another New York court made a similar ruling last December, citing the 2012 case. But these rulings did not set precedent for other states, so whether the characterization is defamatory varies from court to court and state to state.

There is an out gay man seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of Virginia, Del. Mark Levine. He is one of seven candidates, and the nominee will be chosen in a primary June 8. The general election is this November. He would be the first out gay lieutenant governor of any U.S. state, but the U.S. territory of Guam has one, Josh Tenorio. In Pennsylvania, out Rep. Brian Sims is running for the Democratic lieutenant governor nomination in 2022.

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