Native transgender lobbyist sues conservative news website for libel

Publisher stands by claims, will not change article

By: - September 7, 2021 9:09 am

A screenshot of an online story featured by the Montana Daily Gazette which stands at the center of a libel lawsuit.

An Native American lobbyist is suing an online newspaper in eastern Montana for libel, claiming the publication made claims that damaged her ability to perform her job, and is seeking $250,000 in damages from the Montana Daily Gazette.

Adrian Jawort, a transgender lobbyist for Montana Native Voice, is suing the paper for claiming that she cornered a state Senator and Montana Family Foundation President Jeff Laszloffy, who escorted the Senator to the sergeant-at-arms for his protection.

Jawort denied the allegations in the paper and asked the Montana Daily Gazette to remove the written account of the alleged incident and correct the reporting. The Montana Daily Gazette refused to do so, standing by its account. That account offers no source and neither Laszloffy nor the state Senator, nor the sergeant-at-arms appear to have been contacted by the online outlet.

Lawyers Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, Constance Van Kley and Raph Graybill are representing Jawort and said they’ve talked to the parties named in the publication and are prepared to prove the event which alleged lawmakers needed protection from Jawort “never happened.”

“This obviously causes immense reputation damage and harms my performance to do my duties to not only me, but the organization I work for, Montana Native Voice,” Jawort wrote in her complaint.

Matthew Monforton, the attorney for the Gideon Knox Group, the organization that runs the Montana Daily Gazette, said his client stands by the reporting.

“We are confident that at the end of the day, the Montana Daily Gazette will be fully vindicated,” he said.

The incident which was reported by the Montana Daily Gazette was part of a profile it did on Jawort, titled, “Who’s the Gothic Transvestite Haunting the Halls of the Montana Capitol.” While the author doesn’t have a byline other than “Publisher,” Monforton confirmed the identity of the writer is Pastor Jordan “J.D.” Hall.

The article, which claims Jawort is mentally ill and is debilitated with gender dysphoria, is a mix of a little reporting and a lot of commentary about her.

“Fooling precisely no one, the man has been seen wandering the Montana State Capitol like an out-of-place Sasquatch in goth make-up, looking for a snack or someone to yell at. The ill-tempered, dress-wearing man was regularly seen in the gallery of both the House and Senate, chastising legislators with his wagging, giant man fingers, and sitting in fish-net stockings reapplying his make-up with all the precision of a birthday clown with a bad hangover,” the article stated.

However, the incendiary language and characterizations are not at issue, according to the court documents. Despite the critical and arguably offensive descriptions, Jawort is only taking legal issue with the event she claims did not happen and the paper refuses to remove or correct.

Monforton admits the reporting of the Montana Daily Gazette is unconventional.

“It doesn’t follow the stale standards of mainstream media,” Monforton said. It reports from a Christian vantage point that you don’t find in most press outlets in Montana.”

When Hall learned of the lawsuit and Graybill, a former Democrat candidate for the state’s attorney general, he announced it in his publication, criticizing Graybill and mocking Jawort’s crowd-funding efforts.

“One would also think a 16 point loss would encourage Graybill to posture to the right if he hopes for public service,” writes Hall in a third-person story about his own organization being sued. “But not only is Graybill supporting easily the least popular infanticidal maniacs in Montana, Planned ‘Butcherhood,’ he’s now suing Jordan Hall – of the Gideon Knox Group, publisher of Montana Daily Gazette – for what his client calls ‘Transphobia.’”

However, Jawort is not suing for transphobia, which is not a term in law, rather for publishing a false comment and refusing to correct it.

“The First Amendment protects your right to say nasty things and mean things – but it doesn’t give you the right to say untrue things,” Graybill told the Daily Montanan. “She asked to have it taken down and they didn’t. And lying isn’t a Christian value.”

It isn’t the first time the Montana Daily Gazette or Hall have made news for their eye-raising actions. Hall was featured in a Daily Beast story in which he announced the “Bad Neighbors Project” an effort to print on billboards names and pictures of people who reported COVID violations.

Hall is the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney and also runs the Gideon Knox Group. According to its website the Gideon Knox Group is a public relations firm which also operates the Montana Daily Gazette.

“The Gideon Knox Group only works for those who share our conservative Christian worldview because in order to work for you, we must believe in you,” the website said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

MORE FROM AUTHOR