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Gallaudet official blasts school, hints at lawsuit

Lesbian faculty members named as ‘instigators’ for placing McCaskill on leave

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Angela McCaskill, Wyndal Gordon, Maryland marriage petition, same sex marriage, gay marriage, Gallaudet University, Washington Blade, gay news

Gallaudet University chief diversity officer Angela McCaskill this week denounced a decision by the school to put her on leave after she signed an anti-gay petition in Maryland. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer said her reputation was unfairly “tarnished” last week when the university placed her on paid administrative leave for signing a petition in July to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum.

At a news conference outside the Maryland State Capitol Building in Annapolis, Angela McCaskill, who served as Gallaudet’s Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion, identified two out lesbian faculty members as the ones she claims persuaded Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz to suspend her from her job.

She identified the faculty members as Martina “MJ” Bienvenu and Kendra Smith, saying the two are partners and wrote a joint letter to Hurwitz asking that she be reprimanded.

The Blade sent e-mails to Bienvenu and Smith seeking their version of what role they may have played in McCaskill’s suspension. The two responded late Wednesday with a one-sentence statement released by Gallaudet spokesperson Catherine Murphy.

“At this time, we would prefer this matter be a discussion between the University and Dr. Angela McCaskill,” the statement says.

“I was shocked, hurt, insulted. I was humiliated,” McCaskill said, adding that Hurwitz sought to punish her for merely exercising her private right as a Maryland resident to sign a petition to allow voters to make the final decision on whether the same-sex marriage law should be retained or overturned.

“They have attempted to intimidate me and tarnish my reputation,” she said.

McCaskill, speaking in sign language, delivered her comments through an interpreter.

She declined to disclose her position on same-sex marriage or whether she will vote for or against the marriage equality law in the Nov. 6 referendum.

McCaskill’s news conference came hours after the university released a statement saying it wants to talk to McCaskill about reaching an agreement that could lead to her reinstatement.

Her attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, told the news conference McCaskill suffered damages by the university’s action and she would seek compensation for the damages. He declined to say whether McCaskill planned to file a lawsuit and seek monetary compensation.

“We will gladly meet with them,” he said of the university offer to discuss ways to reinstate McCaskill.

Gordon stated repeatedly that McCaskill remains neutral on the gay marriage ballot referendum. He said her decision to sign the petition to place the marriage question on the ballot was based on her strong belief that all controversial issues should be put before voters in Maryland.

“I fully support the members of the LGBT community as I support all groups across Gallaudet and its community,” McCaskill told the news conference.

“When I assumed my position we had an LGBTQA Resource Center that had been formed without funding,” she said. “It was simply an office. I relocated resources to provide support for the center because I believe that members of the LGBTQA community deserve more.”

McCaskill, 54, said she has worked at Gallaudet for 24 years. Her biography on the university website says she is the first deaf African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Gallaudet.

Tuesday’s news conference marked the first time McCaskill has spoken publicly about her suspension since the university community first learned about it on Oct. 10 through a statement released by 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.”

Governor Martin O'Malley, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has called for the reinstatement of Gallaudet University official Angela McCaskill. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

Since making that announcement, Hurwitz has come under fire from both supporters and opponents of the Maryland marriage equality law. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a strong supporter of the same-sex marriage law, and Josh Levin, chair of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the lead group campaigning to retain the same-sex marriage law, have called on Gallaudet to immediately reinstate McCaskill.

The anti-gay Family Research Council and the Maryland Marriage Alliance, two groups urging voters to overturn the marriage equality law in the November referendum, have cited McCaskill’s suspension as a predictor of what will happen if the law is upheld and takes effect in January.

“Homosexual activists continue to cry that individual and religious liberties are not at risk,” said Maryland Marriage Alliance Chair Derek McCoy in a statement released on Tuesday. “The suspension of Dr. McCaskill is proof of the disingenuous and untruthful nature of that argument.”

In a full-page ad published Tuesday in the Annapolis daily newspaper The Capital, Marylanders for Marriage Equality disputed McCoy’s assertion.

“Unfortunately, opponents of marriage equality are trying to make what happened to Dr. McCaskill about Question 6, the November ballot measure that will allow gay and lesbian couples to get a civil marriage license and protects religious freedom,” the ad states.

“But her suspension from a D.C. university has nothing to do with Question 6 in Maryland,” the ad says. “It does however have everything to do with being able to express one’s opinions, freely, and participate in the political process…Question 6 is about fairness and equality under the law, and it’s only fair Dr. McCaskill get her job back.”

McCaskill’s decision to sign the referendum petition was first reported by the blog Planet DeafQueer, which is widely read nationally in the LGBT deaf community.

The blog reported that an unidentified faculty member reportedly found McCaskill’s name on a database list of all signers of the petition that was released by the Maryland board of elections and published by the Washington Blade.

At Tuesday’s news conference in Annapolis, neither McCaskill nor Gordon, her attorney, identified Bienvenu or Smith as the faculty members who discovered McCaskill’s name on the database of petition signers.

But McCaskill told of how the two faculty members played a key role in what she described as a “tremendously horrific” two-week period in which her 24-year career at the university was shaken.

“This nightmare began two weeks ago on Wednesday, Oct. 3, when I was approached by a faculty member of Gallaudet University whose name is Martina Bienvenu,” McCaskill said.

Aisha Braveboy, Maryland marriage petition, gay marriage, same sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland State Rep. Aisha Braveboy also spoke at the press conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“She asked if I had signed a petition to put the question of same-sex marriage on the ballot as a referendum,” McCaskill continued. “I responded that I had, that I did sign such a petition. In this very moment, she determined that the signature meant that I was anti-gay. No one has the right to decide what my signature meant,” she said. “Only I can do that.”

Added McCaskill, “MJ, Dr. Bienvenu and her partner, Kendra Smith, wrote a letter to the president of the university asking that I be reprimanded.”

Their biographies posted on the Gallaudet website state that both hold a Ph.D., with Bienvenu serving as a professor of “ASL and Deaf Studies” and Smith serving as an assistant professor of counseling. Both have been involved in academic-related projects involving LGBT deaf people, according to the biographies.

Planet DeafQueer reported in an Oct. 8 posting that LGBT students, who considered McCaskill a friend and ally in her role as chief diversity officer, were shocked when they learned she had signed a petition to place the marriage equality law on the ballot in a referendum.

The blog posting said LGBT students and faculty believed it was inappropriate for the school’s diversity officer to take such an action, which they viewed as an endorsement of the campaign to defeat the marriage equality law.

LGBT activists in Maryland have pointed out that the signature gathering effort to place the marriage equality law on the ballot was organized and carried out by people who oppose same-sex marriage.

But Gordon, McCaskill’s attorney, said at the news conference Tuesday that it would be incorrect to label McCaskill as being anti-gay or an opponent of gay marriage.

“Her signature on the same-sex marriage petition referendum that she signed in July 2012 merely represented her desire to, one, have this matter decided through the Maryland democratic process; two, allow Maryland citizens to become more informed on the issue through public discourse; and three, to enable Maryland citizens to cast their votes after thoroughly examining the issues and making an informed decision,” he said.

“Signing a petition to have same-sex marriage placed on the November ballot in Maryland’s general election no more interferes or compromises Dr. McCaskill’s integrity or qualifications as the Chief Diversity Officer than it would if she signed a petition to place affirmative action or any other controversial issue on the November ballot.”

Greg Nevins, an attorney with the gay litigation group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said an employer such as a university could establish restrictions on an employee’s public actions under certain circumstances.

“I would say people can vote the way they want to,” Nevins said. “But as far as putting yourself out in a public way, if it’s contrary to your job description – the things that you should be portraying and the employer’s position – they can take action against you.”

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats host forum on proposed ranked choice voting, open primaries

Initiative 83 supporters, opponents attended event at Shakers

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Vote No On Initiative 83 leader Deirdre Brown, front left, joins pro-Initiative 83 leader Phil Pannell, front right, in a friendly toast following their sometimes-heated debate over the proposed D.C. ballot measure hosted by the LGBTQ group Capital Stonewall Democrats and held at the gay bar Shakers. Standing behind Brown and Pannell are Capital Stonewall Dems President Mike Haresign, at left, the group’s vice president, Monica Nemeth, and secretary, Howard Garrett Jr. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, one of D.C.’s oldest LGBTQ political organizations, hosted a forum on on Monday night, Feb. 19, on the proposed D.C. ballot measure known as Initiative 83, which calls for the city to put in place a ranked choice voting system and for party primaries to be open to all registered voters regardless of their party affiliation, including independent voters.

The forum included presentations by one of the leading supporters and a leading opponent of the controversial initiative. Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights and Ward 8 community activist Phil Pannell, who serves as treasurer of Make All Votes Count DC, the lead organization advocating for Initiative 83, spoke on behalf of the initiative.

Deirdre Brown, who identified herself as a longtime Ward 3 Democratic Party member and LGBTQ community ally, spoke on behalf of Vote No on Initiative 83, the lead group opposing the initiative. 

Brown pointed out that her organization was separate and distinct from the D.C. Democratic Party, which also opposes Initiative 83 and has filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court to prevent the measure from being placed on the ballot. A judge was expected to hand down a ruling on whether the lawsuit should be dismissed or continue at a Feb. 23 hearing. 

Capital Stonewall Democrats President Michael Haresign, who introduced both speakers, told the Washington Blade after the event, which was held at the D.C. gay bar Shakers, that the LGBTQ Democratic group may not take an official position on Initiative 83. He said that if it does take a position, it would not do so until later this year if the initiative is approved for placement on the ballot in the city’s November election. 

An informal survey of local LGBTQ activists conducted by the Blade shows the LGBTQ community appears divided over Initiative 83, with prominent activists emerging as both supporters and opponents of the measure.

In his presentation in support of Initiative 83, Pannell called ranked choice voting an important electoral reform that has worked successfully in many states and cities across the country. He noted that ranked choice voting serves as an instant, automatic runoff election if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote in a primary or general election. 

As proposed, Initiative 83 would allow voters to rank candidates running for office in order of their preference. Under this system, if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote during the initial ballot counting process, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. 

The votes cast by voters who picked that candidate as their top choice would then go to their second-choice candidate. This process would continue, under the ranked choice system, until at least one candidate emerges with at least 50 percent of the votes and is declared the winner.

The second part of Initiative 83 would allow more than 80,000 D.C. residents who currently choose not to register as a member of one of the local political parties and who are not allowed to vote in a primary, to vote in the city’s primary elections, including the Democratic primary. Political observers point out that the Democratic primary usually decides who will win the general election in D.C, where registered voters overwhelmingly elect Democratic candidates to public office. 

“In terms of ranked choice voting, it’s very basic,” Pannell told the gathering. “You have to start with , do you believe people who are elected should have a simple majority of the vote? If you don’t believe that, I’m not going to be able to convince you,” he said. 

Pannell pointed out that in recent D.C. elections, under the city’s public campaign finance law, as many as 20 candidates have run for both at-large and ward seats on the DC Council, with some of them winning with just 30 percent or even a little over 20 percent of the vote. 

Calling himself a lifelong, loyal member of the Democratic Party, Pannell criticized party leaders for opposing what he calls broadening the democratic process by allowing all residents to vote in primaries, especially independents, and for opposing a ranked choice voting system that Pannell said also broadens the electoral consensus by requiring that a candidate receive at least 50 percent of the vote to win an election.

“Initiative 83 will make politics more inclusive, less divisive,” he told the forum. “Let’s embrace it. Closed primaries are the result of closed hearts and closed minds,” he said. “Let’s open the windows and the doors … Let’s change our party for the better and vote for Initiative 83.”

Brown, who also described herself as a loyal Democratic Party member from Ward 3 and a native Washingtonian, disputed arguments by Pannell and his colleagues in support of Initiative 83, saying the democratic process is alive and well under the current D.C. electoral system and backers of Initiative 83 are waging a “propaganda campaign” to confuse voters.

Among other things, she said it’s not an infringement of democracy by requiring people to register for a party to vote in a party primary. All they need to do is register under D.C.’s rapid registration system, vote in a primary, and then withdraw their registration at any time. She also said independent voters, who Initiative 83 supporters say have a right to vote in primaries, often do not agree with the principles of the Democratic Party.

“And normally independents will tell you I’m independent because I don’t believe in Democratic Party values. I don’t believe in Republican Party values. I don’t believe in statehood values,” she told the gathering. “So, the question becomes, is it okay for people who don’t share your values to pick your leaders? There is no other club or organization that allows people who are not members to pick their leaders. It’s just that simple,” she said.

“That’s not disenfranchising you,” Brown added. “You just have to choose whether you want to work within a party to promote their values and issues or not. And if you don’t, that’s okay, that’s your choice. But you just then don’t get to vote until we get to the general election.”

Regarding ranked choice voting, Brown cited studies conducted by independent research organizations, including universities, that she said show it “marginalizes black and brown voters,” voters in low-income neighborhoods, and voters whose native language is not English, many of whom, she said, become confused by the ranked choice voting system. 

She also disputed claims by ranked choice voting supporters that citizens already participate in a ranked choice system in everyday life, including D.C.’s ranked choice public school lottery system, and public housing system and a ranked choice voting system will be similarly easy to understand.

Brown pointed out that unlike the school lottery or public housing system, where making a mistake will not result in serious consequences, ranked choice voting usually doesn’t accommodate people who fill out the ballot incorrectly.

“If you make a mistake if you undervote, overvote, your ballot is thrown out,” she said.

Brown concluded by pointing out that financial reports filed by supporters of Initiative 83 filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance shows large sums of money backing the initiative are coming from out of state Political Action Committees or PACS as well as large corporations. 

During a rebuttal period, Pannell pointed to other studies he said show that minority voters, especially African American voters, do not have a problem with ranked choice voting, calling it an insult to say Black people and other minorities who would not adopt to ranked choice voting. 

He said Brown’s suggestion that there was something wrong with out of state organizations contributing money to a political cause was unfair and baseless.

“I’m the treasurer of this campaign,” he said. “And anyone who knows me knows that  I will not play tricks and trash with any political cash,” he told the forum. “And this is in the same way that we in the LGBTQ community had to get donations from outside the city when we were fighting for our rights,” Pannell said. “There is nothing wrong with getting donations from outside of D.C. Candidates do it all the time.”

Pannell drew objections from Brown and other Initiative 83 supporters at the Capital Stonewall Democrats forum when he added, “If we’re going to talk about donations, check out the donations going to the Vote No On 83 committee. And you will see that two of the most virulent opponents of marriage equality are contributors to that committee.”

Brown replied that she and others involved in the No On 83 campaign are not aware of all the political views of the hundreds of mostly small donors who contribute to their committee. She said an examination of the donors for the Make All Votes Count DC committee might also find some who at one time expressed opposition to LGBTQ rights. 

One person who attended the forum, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said they believed the two individuals Pannell was referring to, who Pannell said were officials with the D.C. Democratic State Committee, supported holding a voter referendum to decide on whether same-sex marriage should be legalized in D.C. The source said the two did not specifically oppose same-sex marriage but wanted the voters to decide the issue rather than the D.C. Council. 

As it turned out, the DC Board of Elections rejected the matter as a voter referendum on grounds that the D.C. Home Rule Charter bans voter initiatives or referendums that could lead to discrimination against minority groups, including LGBTQ people. Opponents of same-sex marriage appealed the election board’s decision to the courts and lost in a final ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld a lower D.C. court ruling agreeing with the election board’s decision. 

After Pannell and Brown concluded their remarks, Haresign opened the forum to questions from those attending the meeting in person as well as those watching on the organization’s Facebook page. The questioners who expressed their own views on Initiative 83 appeared to be divided evenly among the measure’s supporters and opponents. 

“I think the forum went well,” Haresign told the Blade. “We were able to get a high level of information,” he said. 

“If we were to take a position it would be after everything is certified and we have a full membership vote,” Haresign said, referring to Initiative 83 being certified by the Board of Elections to be on the ballot in November. 

Under D.C. election rules, the board’s certification would come after the lawsuit is dismissed or settled and after Initiative 83 supporters obtain the required number of petition signatures to place the measure on the ballot.  

Pannell urged Capital Stonewall Democrats members and others in the LGBTQ community to sign the petition to get the measure on the ballot, even if they don’t support it, saying voters should be given the right to decide the issue.

Brown disagreed, saying “I’m asking you if you believe in I-83, then go ahead and sign the petition. But if you do not, I’m asking you not to sign the petition.”

The video recording of the Capital Stonewall Democrats forum can be accessed here:

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District of Columbia

Community rallies behind As You Are bar’s fundraising appeal 

D.C. LGBTQ café and bar raised more than $170k to prevent closure

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As You Are bar in March 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Less than a week after the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are located in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill issued a GoFundMe appeal on Feb. 5 seeking emergency financial support to prevent it from closing, the popular business reached its goal of $150,000 to get out of debt.

And as of Sunday night, the fundraising appeal had pulled in $171,471 from more than 3,000 individual donations, according to As You Are’s GoFundMe site.

In comments posted on the GoFundMe site, many of the donors said they were motivated to contribute to As You Are because they view it as a special, safe space that offers a welcoming, accepting place for them and their LGBTQ friends or family members.

In their GoFundMe message, As You Are co-owners Jo McDaniel and Rachel “Coach” Pike describe how they view their business as offering community center type programming beyond just a bar and café.

“AYA is a café, bar and dance floor that hosts diverse programming nearly every night of the week, including social sport leagues, Queer youth socials, weekly karaoke, book clubs, open mics, Queer author events, dance parties and much more,” the two said in their message.

“We have faced some particularly tall and costly hurdles that have set us back significantly since the beginning,” the two said in their GoFundMe message. “As we are tapping every resource we can imagine with creativity and open minds we need urgent assistance,” they said. 

“Rach and Jo are truly loved, and AYA is so important to so many people and everyone knew that,” said gay D.C. civic activist Mike Silverstein, who is one of the GoFundMe donors. “The response was absolutely amazing,” Silverstein said. “From every part of our community. People put everything aside, worked together and focused on saving a space that means so much.”

As You Are opened for business in March 2022. McDaniel and Pike have said the financial problems were caused, in part, by a delay in their planned opening due to complications associated with getting their required occupancy permit from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The two said negotiations with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which demanded certain soundproofing structures be installed for the interior walls of their building, also added to the delay and increased costs.

Like other bars and restaurants across the city, McDaniel and Pike said their rent became a financial burden during a slow period for business last summer. They told the Washington Blade their landlord declined a request to renegotiate the lease to make an allowance based on sales. The two told the Washington Post that their rent is $27,000 per month, which they had to begin paying before they were able to open for business, and they spent $40,000 on soundproofing the walls, all of which contributed to a debt of about $150,000.

McDaniel and Pike, who spoke to the Blade at the time they launched their GoFundMe appeal, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the success of their fundraising and their future plans for As You Are. They told the Post now that they are no longer in debt, they plan to take up several offers of financial advice and they’re looking into possibly buying a property rather than renting. They said they also plan to apply for D.C. government business grants now that they have caught up on back tax payments.

Among those who posted comments on the As You Are GoFundMe site after making a contribution was Megan Mowery, who wrote, “AYA gives us a place to feel community, it is so rare to find a queer space where I can have fun and feel safe.” Mowrey added, “The programming AYA puts on absolutely has something for everyone. I love you AYA!!!”

Helena Chaves, another donor, stated in a GoFundMe post, “As You Are has been a monumental addition to the LGBTQIA+ community in Washington, D.C. They hold so many events and fundraisers, provide beautiful accommodations for us disabled folk, and have protocols in place to diminish harassment in the space.” 

Among the larger donors shown on the As You Are GoFundMe site is the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride festival and parade, which donated $2,500. 

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Maryland

Baltimore County police arrest suspect in rape of transgender woman

Jalen Green allegedly target victim through dating app

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Baltimore County police announced Feb. 15 they had arrested and charged a 22-year-old man with first-degree rape, first-degree assault, armed robbery and firearm-related charges in addition to other offenses.

According to a statement released by police, Jalen Green was arrested in connection with a sexual assault that occurred in the 3000 block of Putty Hill Avenue in Parkville on Feb. 11 at approximately 3:30 p.m. 

Investigators say Green targeted a member of the transgender community through a dating app.

WBAL reported

According to the charging documents, the victim told officers that Green contacted her for sex in exchange for money. The victim told officers that Green pointed the gun at her and demanded money, the documents state.

Not having any cash, the victim said Green used her phone to send himself $100 in the Cash App and then stole two prescription bottles from the victim. According to police, Green then sexually assaulted the victim at gunpoint and recorded video on his cellphone.

The charging documents state that investigators recovered evidence from the scene, including DNA. A search warrant was being sought to recover potential evidence on Green’s cellphone, the documents state.

Investigators seek to hear from anyone who may have been in contact with Green.

The Baltimore County Police Department’s Special Victims Unit is seeking information from anyone who may have been in contact with this subject. Detectives can be contacted at (410) 887-2223. 

If you are a survivor of a sexual assault, you can contact the Sexual Assault Hotline for crisis counseling by calling (410) 828-6390. The Special Victims Unit also works with TurnAround who can be contacted by calling (410) 377-8111.

Green is being held without bond at the Baltimore County Detention Center.

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