A Los Angeles judge ruled Thursday that BET did not unlawfully discriminate against transgender media personality B. Scott when the network ordered him to change his attire in the middle of the preshow for the 2013 BET Awards, for which Scott had been hired as a style stage correspondent.
L.A. Superior Court judge Yvette Palazuelos determined that BET's rights to control its creative expression through managing the attire of on-screen talent was protected by the First Amendment, and ultimately trumped the discomfort and discrimination Scott alleged he suffered as a result of being forced to change into more traditionally masculine attire.
"It disheartens me that the message sent today wasn’t a message of acceptance, but rather it’s acceptable to discriminate against transgender individuals on the basis of their gender identity and expression," Scott said Thursday evening in a statement posted to his popular blog. "And that such discriminatory acts are protected under the first amendment. … Standing up for your rights and the rights of others can be a lengthy, uphill war. When one battle is lost, another is waged and yet we must press forward."
Scott filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against BET last August, charging that the network and its parent company, Viacom, discriminated against him on the basis of his gender identity by literally pulling him off the red carpet and demanding that he change into more masculine attire during the 2013 BET Awards. When Scott complied by pulling back his long hair, removing his makeup and high heels, and exchanging his flowing blue tunic and black slacks for a fitted navy suit jacket and slim black pants, he was added back to the end of the program's preshow in a vastly diminished capacity, as a guest commentator rather than the sole style stage correspondent he'd been hired as.
Over the course of discovery in the lawsuit, emails between BET executives emerged that seemed to corroborate Scott's claims that he was censored on the basis of his gender-nonconforming presentation. In January, TMZ obtained emails allegedly from BET music programming president Stephen Hill, writing "I don't want 'looking like a woman' B. Scott … I want tempered B. Scott."
In response to Scott's lawsuit, BET filed a motion to strike, citing California's anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation laws, essentially arguing that Scott's suit should be dismissed because the network acted within its legal rights to free speech on national broadcast television. Judge Pazauelos granted that anti-SLAPP claim Thursday, striking Scott's lawsuit by using the precedent of several other cases in which courts determined that entertainment companies have a right to control their "creative process" and all aspects contributing to the way the final product appears. The Hollywood Reporter has an excellent analysis of the ruling and the precedent that allowed it to be reached.
"Although I’m saddened by what today’s verdict means for myself and other members of the LGBTQ community, the struggle is not over," Scott said. "I will pursue progress and human rights for our community through the Appellate Court where I hope that my unique set of circumstances and BET/Viacom’s treatment of me will collectively yield active legislation to prevent anyone else from having to suffer as I have — without networks being able to disguise their unlawful discriminatory practices with vague, umbrella terms like ‘creative privilege.’ I’m committed to change, progress, human rights and equality for all, and by no means do I feel defeated."
LGBT media watchdog organization GLAAD also issued a statement supporting Scott.
"Many television networks have yet to fully embrace individuals from all gender identities and expressions," said GLAAD's Rich Ferraro. "B. Scott's experience illustrates the need for networks to show more diverse images and do their part in bringing our culture to a safer and more accepting place."
Scott identifies as a gay transgender person who prefers the use of male pronouns.