(CN) - The president of a group for "ex-gays" did not commit defamation by telling a local news audience that a gay rights activist had said "somebody should inject him with AIDS," referring to the ex-gays president, a federal judge ruled.
Gregory Quinlan is the president and CEO of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) a Virginia-based nonprofit that claims to support a community of ex-gays - men and women who decide "to leave homosexuality via secular therapy, Homosexuals Anonymous support groups, faith based ministries and other non-judgmental environments."
"Former homosexuals are the last invisible minority group in America," according to PFOX's website.
A lawsuit removed to federal court in Virginia's Eastern District claimed that Quinlan targeted Wayne Besen, the executive director of Truth Wins Out, a Vermont-based nonprofit that purports to fight "anti-gay lies and the ex-gay myth."
While appearing as a guest on WDCW-TV in October 2011, Quinlan told the D.C.-area television station about Truth Wins Out. "Wayne Besen," Quinlan said. "He's asked for people, you know, 'somebody needs to run Greg over.' 'He needs to be hit with a bus.' 'Somebody should inject him with AIDS.' Those are the things Wayne Besen and Truth Wins Out says about me."
When Besen demanded that Quinlan retract his statement, Quinlan refused and echoed the remarks on PFOX's blog "The truth is that Besen once said to me in a private conversation that someone should run me over with a bus or inject me with AIDS," the post said. "Did I think he was serious? No. I knew it was just Wayne being Wayne; one part blust, two parts hyperbole and three parts hot air."
Quinlan also allegedly suggested that "perhaps Wayne's attitude had something to do with his firing from the Human Rights Campaign."
U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson granted Quinlan and PFOX's motion to dismiss, finding that Besen "has not pled any facts which, taken as true, demonstrate that Quinlan knew - or should have been aware - that Besen was not actually 'fired' from Human Rights Campaign, or that Besen had not, in fact, directed violent rhetoric at Quinlan at some point in the past."
Although Besen argued the contrary, Hudson found that Besen qualifies as a public figure as a chief spokesman for a nonprofit advocacy group. The judge noted that "plaintiff recognizes the public 'dispute,' in which both he and defendant Quinlan are actively involved, concerning the question of whether one's 'sexual orientation can be changed.'"
"As a public figure, plaintiff must show that the allegedly defamatory statements were made with knowing falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth," Hudson wrote. "'Reckless conduct is not measured by whether a reasonably prudent man would have published, or would have investigated before publishing. There must be sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendant in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication.' As the Fourth Circuit has observed, 'establishing actual malice is no easy task, because the defamation plaintiff bears the burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence."
"Plaintiff has not met his burden as a limited-purpose public figure to plausibly allege actual malice, and his defamation claims must be dismissed," Hudson added.