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Md. marriage equality group opposes suspension of Gallaudet administrator

Diversity provost placed on leave for signing anti-gay marriage petition

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Angela McCaskill, gay news, Washington Blade
Angela McCaskill, gay news, Washington Blade

Angela McCaskill was placed on Administrative leave when it was revealed she’d signed the Maryland marriage petition, after names of the petition signers were obtained and published by the Washington Blade.

The leader of the campaign supporting Maryland’s same-sex marriage law in a Nov. 6 voter referendum is calling on D.C.’s Gallaudet University to reverse a decision to suspend a campus diversity officer for signing a petition calling for overturning the marriage equality law.

Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, released a statement Wednesday evening expressing opposition to Gallaudet’s decision to place Dr. Angela McCaskill, a Maryland resident and the school’s Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion, on paid administrative leave.

“We strongly disagree with the decision to put the chief diversity officer on leave and hope she is reinstated immediately,” Levin said in his statement. “Everyone is entitled to free speech and to their own opinion about Question 6, which is about treating everyone fairly and equally under the law.”

Levin’s statement followed by several hours a statement from Derek McCoy, chair of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, one of the leading groups calling on voters to defeat the same-sex marriage law in the referendum.

“I join an ever-growing number of Marylanders in expressing my complete dismay over Gallaudet University’s decision to place Dr. Angela McCaskill on administrative leave for signing the marriage referendum petition,” McCoy said.

The statements by Levin and McCoy marked a rare turn of events that placed the two opposing leaders and their organizations in agreement over McCaskill’s situation.

Gallaudet University is one of the nation’s most prominent colleges for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The news that McCaskill had been placed on paid administrative leave came from a statement issued on Wednesday by Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz.

“It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently,” Hurwitz said.

“I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university,” he said. “In the meantime an interim chief Diversity Officer will be announced in the near future.”

McCaskill’s decision to sign the referendum petition was first reported by the blog Planet DeafQueer, a news site widely read in the LGBT deaf community throughout the country.

The blog reported that an unidentified Gallaudet faculty member filed a complaint against McCaskill with the university last week after discovering McCaskill had signed the petition that called for a referendum on the same-sex marriage law in Maryland.

Opponents of the marriage law gathered more than 200,000 petition signatures, far more than needed to place the law on the ballot in November after the Maryland General Assembly passed it and Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the marriage equality measure in March.

In July, the Maryland board of elections made available to the public a database of all those who signed the petition. The Washington Blade published the database.

The unidentified faculty member at Gallaudet reportedly accessed the information from the Blade and discovered that Angela Patrice McCaskill of Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County was among those who signed the petition.

Planet DeafQueer reports that McCaskill’s decision to sign the petition came as a shock to the school’s LGBT students because she was a strong supporter of the school’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Ally (LGBTQA) Resource Center, which opened on National Coming Out day on Oct. 11, 2011.

The school’s website says her duties include promoting diversity and inclusiveness in all of the university’s programs and activities for all groups, including LGBT people.

“LGBT students, faculty and staff we spoke to said they felt shock, disappointment, anger and betrayal upon learning of the signed petition,” Planet DeafQueer reported in an Oct. 8 posting. “Some are calling for Dr. McCaskill’s resignation. Others are waiting for an official response from Dr. McCaskill and wondering if it will be possible for her to regain her trust,” the blog reported.

McCaskill could not immediately be reached for comment. Gallaudet’s official spokesperson, Catherine Murphy, didn’t return a call seeking comment as of late Wednesday.

According to Planet DeafQueer, prior to filing the complaint, the faculty member who discovered the signature confronted McCaskill about why she signed the anti-gay petition.

“Dr. McCaskill confirmed that she had in fact signed the petition and explained that she had done so while at church, after her preacher had preached against gay marriage,” Planet DeafQueer reported the faculty member as saying. “As she was leaving, her husband pointed to the petition and she signed it without giving it further thought.”

The blog report added, “Dr. McCaskill is expected to issue an apology.”

A source familiar with Gallaudet University, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Blade Hurwitz’s decision to place McCaskill on administrative leave has aggravated what the source called longstanding racial and gay-straight tensions within the campus community.

“There is a long history of competition between black and white deaf people and gays and straights on this campus,” said the source.

McCaskill became the first deaf African-American female to earn a Ph.D. from Gallaudet, according to her official biography on the university website.

The source noted that LGBT students and faculty members at Gallaudet were genuinely upset that someone they viewed as a supporter and ally would sign an anti-gay petition, especially in her role as head of the school’s diversity and inclusion program.

But others, the source said, view the development as an overly hasty decision by Hurwitz, who is white, to remove one of the university’s few high-level black administrators over her decision to exercise her First Amendment right to sign a petition in her role as a private citizen of Maryland.

The source said members of an anonymous email network of people affiliated with Gallaudet known as the “Gallynet” denounced the decision to place McCaskill on administrative leave.

“Angela is tarred and feathered and lynched without ever having a chance to defend herself. Shame,” one anonymous person said in an email sent through the network. “So now it’s the LGBT community vs. us black deaf. Sigh!”

The source who spoke to the Blade expressed disagreement with this person’s claim that LGBT deaf people and black deaf people at Gallaudet were at odds with each other.

“The deaf gays, both black and white, are often caught in the middle of this,” the source said.

 

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District of Columbia

D.C. ceremony welcomes affirming church as ‘full standing’ UCC congregation

Bishop Abrams officially installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

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Bishop Allyson Abrams (far right) was installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

The Mt. Rainier, Md.-based Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which Washington Blade readers have selected for five years as the D.C. area’s Best LGBTQ Church, was honored as an official United Church of Christ congregation in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street in D.C.

The ceremony, organized by the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ, which admitted Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as a UCC congregation last fall, also officially installed lesbian Bishop Allyson Abrams as pastor of the now UCC-affiliated Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

Abrams founded Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in 2014 at its original location in Silver Spring, Md., as a nondenominational Protestant church that she declared would be a welcoming and affirming congregation “where all of God’s children are welcomed,” including LGBTQ people of faith. Washington Blade readers have also named Abrams the D.C. area’s Best Clergy for seven years.

Although many consider Empowerment Liberation Cathedral a “gay” church, one of its spokespersons, Kendrick Keys, told the Washington Blade ELC considers itself a welcoming church and congregation open to everyone, even though he said a majority but not all of its members are LGBTQ.  

A biography of Abrams prepared by the LGBTQ Religion Archives Network says her founding of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral came one year after she resigned as pastor of the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit in 2013 and two years after she was consecrated as a bishop at Pneuma Christian Fellowship, a religious order in Orange County, Calif.

The biography says Abrams created a stir in 2013 shortly before her resignation as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church, when she announced to the congregation that she had just married another female bishop, Diana Williams, who at the time was Bishop Emeritus of the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

A short time after that, Abrams and Williams moved to the D.C.-Maryland area where Abrams mapped out plans to open the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral known as ELC.

 “Bishop Abrams came to the Washington, D.C. area with a new blitz about her marriage to another female bishop,” a statement released by ELC says. “She was outcast by many organizations and religious groups for declaring you could be gay and Christian,” the statement says.

“When Abrams decided to open a church in the Washington Metropolitan Area many media outlets discussed her keeping her faith and opening a church for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised from the church and from their legacies in churches across America,” the statement continues.

“Bishop Abrams has remained on the forefront of ministry and has united with a denomination that believes in justice and equality for all – the United Church of Christ,” says the statement.

It was referring to the United Church of Christ’s status as an LGBTQ-affirming church that welcomes LGBTQ people into its services and congregations.

A separate ELC statement says among those attending and participating in the Feb. 25 ceremony at Plymouth Church were pastors, bishops, ministers, parishioners, community leaders, organizations affiliated with ELC and the United Church of Christ’s Potomac Association.

Among them was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, who delivered a statement from Bowser.

“As Mayor of Washington, D.C., I congratulate Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as you join the United Church of Christ (UCC) family and install Bishop Alyson Abrams as pastor,” the statement says. “As you gather to celebrate this momentous occasion, may both pastor and congregation be inspired to even higher heights of achievement and service to our communities,” the mayor’s statement says.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival, issued its own statement congratulating Empowerment Liberation Cathedral. The statement mentions that in 2016, Capital Pride honored Bishop Abrams as a Capital Pride Hero “in acknowledgement of her work in the faith community for the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians.”

ELC spokesperson Keys said the church holds its weekly Sunday services at the Mt. Rainier Arts Center at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.

He said a nonprofit community services organization created by ELC called Empowerment Justice Center, is located at 1015 15th Street, N.W., Room 653 in D.C. The church office is also at that location, Keys said. 

Further information about church services and events can be obtained by contacting ELC at 202-798-4371 or at empowermentliberationcathedral.org.

But Keys said the church’s location in Maryland had not been updated on the website, which lists its former location in Lanham, Md., rather than its current location in Mt. Rainier.

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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