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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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Arts & Entertainment

Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight dazzle at AIDS Healthcare Foundation World AIDS Day Concert at Kennedy Center

Renowned vocalists delivered show-stopping performances

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Patti LaBelle performs onstage during World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) hosted its 2022 World AIDS Day Concert on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the concert hall of The Kennedy Center in D.C. Renowned multi-Grammy Award-winning vocalists Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight delivered show-stopping performances to the packed crowd, which included supporters, dignitaries such as: Harold Phillips, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; White House Senior Advisor for Public Engagement, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and New Orleans Mayor, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and more, in a night of hope and celebration.

The legendary Gladys Knight performs at the Kennedy Center during a free concert hosted by AHF to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, 2022, in Washington. (Joy Asico/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), is the world’s largest HIV/AIDS care provider, currently operating in 45 countries. The concert is held every year to commemorate World AIDS Day, observed internationally each year on Dec. 1. This year also marked the global organization’s 35th anniversary. 

At the event, longtime humanitarian and AIDS advocate, Princess Diana was honored, posthumously, with AHF’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Under its “Keep the Promise!” banner, AHF also acknowledged progress made in the global fight against HIV and AIDS and continues to raise awareness about “The Other Pandemic” as a reminder of the significant work still to be done on HIV/AIDS, as well as remembering the lives that have been lost over the years.  

Legendary entertainers Patti LaBelle (L) Gladys Knight (C) and AHF President Michael Weinstein, together at The Kennedy Center during a free concert hosted by AHF to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, 2022, in Washington. (Joy Asico/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Michael Weinstein, President of AHF, said, “As millions remain affected by HIV/AIDS around the globe, World AIDS Day annually provides an opportunity to honor those we’ve lost and those living with HIV/AIDS today, as well as reminding leaders and the community of the work that still remains to address this epidemic. From providing compassionate AIDS hospice care in those darkest early days to growing to become the largest global AIDS organization today, now providing lifesaving care and treatment to more than 1.7 million people around the globe, we also celebrate the tireless work of all those who help make today’s AHF possible: our staff, Board, affiliate organizations and affinity groups, friends, family and elected officials and community partners across the globe, but most of all, our clients and patients—with our annual 2022 World AIDS Day event. It was a momentous night to host our World AIDS Day concert at The Kennedy Center for the first time, and welcome back the legendary Patti LaBelle, and have another great American icon, Gladys Knight join us, while also being able to honor the legacy and humanitarian work of the late Princess Diana.”

President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Michael Weinstein and Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, Harold Phillips attend World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
Congresswoman, Sheila Jackson Lee and Patti LaBelle attend World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
Derek J. attends World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
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District of Columbia

Matthew Shepard portrait dedicated at National Cathedral

Gay Wyoming student killed in 1998 hate crime honored in daylong ceremony

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Judy and Dennis Shepard stand in front of a portrait of their son, Matthew. Matthew Shepard was honored at a ceremony on Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime while tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo., was to be honored at a ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral dedicating a newly commissioned portrait of Shepard.

Officials at the cathedral said the portrait by artist Kelly Latimore and commissioned by LGBTQ members of the Cathedral staff, is the only artistic image of Matthew Shepard created in collaboration with Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who were present during the ceremony.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018, 20 years after his death. The Cathedral announced in a statement this week that the Dec. 1 dedication of the Shepard portrait would also take place on what would have been Shepard’s 46th birthday.

A Thanksgiving and Celebration of Matthew Shepard service was held on October 26, 2018 at the Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“The horrific murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs are a tragic reminder that our LGBTQ friends and family continue to be targeted for who they love, and Matthew Shepard’s legacy reminds us of the urgency to confront bigotry and embrace people of all backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations,” said The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, in a statement.

Events surrounding the portrait dedication began with a 7 a.m. online prayer service “to celebrate and recall Matthew Shepard’s life,” the statement released by the Cathedral says. The service was led by Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Cathedral next hosted a preview of the portrait for the news media at 10:30 a.m., where Dennis and Judy Shepard talked about the portrait and their son’s life and the impact his death had on the nation’s understanding of hate crimes.

“It’s amazing how similar and what a great job that Kelly [Latimore] has done to make it look like Matt and showing the essence of Matt,” Dennis Shepard told the Washington Blade while viewing the portrait in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where the portrait was on display.

Artist Latimore, who also spoke to reporters during the morning briefing at the chapel, said he was moved in his discussions with Judy and Dennis Shepard while getting ready to begin work on the painting by copies of dozens of letters they sent him that had been sent to the Shepards by people across the country after their son’s death.

Latimore included written excerpts from dozens of those letters as the background to his portrait of Matthew Shepard, which can be seen and read when standing close to the portrait.

Artist Kelly Latimore (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

“Matthew will not be forgotten,” an excerpt from one of the letters on the portrait says.
Dennis and Judy Shepard created the Matthew Shepard Foundation shortly after Matthew’s death, which has been credited with playing a lead role in advocating for the passage by Congress in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The measure was the first federal hate crime statute that expanded the coverage of the federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class.

President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Oct. 22, 2009. (Washington Blade archive photo by Michael Key)

The Cathedral was to open its St. Joseph’s Chapel from 2-5 p.m. on Thursday to visitors where the Matthew Shepard portrait was on display. Dennis and Judy Shepard were scheduled to be present to greet visitors.

According to the statement released by the Cathedral, later in the evening at 7 p.m., the portrait was to be officially dedicated in a private service in the Cathedral’s crypt near the site where Shepard’s ashes were interred.

“A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church, the Cathedral considers LGBTQ equality one of the great civil rights issues of the 21st century,” the statement released by the Cathedral says.

One of the two men charged with Matthew Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to a murder charge in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors not to seek a death sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The other man charged in the murder, Aaron McKinney, pleaded not guilty and went to trial, where he was convicted of murder by a jury. In a dramatic statement before the judge at the conclusion of the trial, Dennis Shepard announced and he and his wife had asked prosecutors and the judge to spare McKinney from being sentenced to death, something he said McKinney did not do while fatally striking his son in the head multiple times with the barrel of a gun after the two men tied him to a fence post in a remote field outside Laramie.

The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

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District of Columbia

Three more LGBTQ ANC candidates declared winners

At least 38 LGBTQ hopefuls elected; outcome for two more uncertain

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There will be a special election to fill the seat of Kent Boese, who withdrew his candidacy but received the most votes.

The number of known LGBTQ candidates who won election to Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats rose from 35 to 38 as the D.C. Board of Elections this week released its final, certified vote count for the Nov. 8 D.C. election.

The 38 winners were among 44 known LGBTQ candidates who ran for ANC seats this year. One of the candidates who emerged as a winner, incumbent James Tandaric of ANC 3F05 in the city’s Van Ness neighborhood, was trailing opponent Andrew Koval by just eight votes when the early vote count was released in the days following the election.

The final vote count that emerged this week shows Tandaric beat Koval by a vote of 258 to 250.

When the early vote count was released in the week after the election, the outcome of four LGBTQ ANC write-in candidates along with all write-in candidates could not be determined until the Board of Elections received a required affidavit of candidacy from the write-in candidates, which was due by Nov. 15.

When the final write-in candidate results were released earlier this week along with the names of the write-in candidates, two of the four LGBTQ write-in candidates emerged as winners, both from the Logan Circle ANC. The two are Christopher Dyer of ANC 2F05 and Matt Fouracre of ANC 2F06.

Another one of the LGBTQ write-in candidates, Charles Panfil of ANC 6E02 in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood, finished in a tie with another write-in candidate. A spokesperson for the Board of Elections said tie votes in ANC elections are resolved by the drawing of lots. The spokesperson, Nicholas Jacobs, said he couldn’t immediately say when a drawing of the lot would take place.

The race for the fourth LGBTQ write-in candidate, Bradley Gallagher of ANC 1E01 in the city’s Park View neighborhood, could not be determined and a special election for that seat will have to be held, according to the Board of Election. The reason, the elections board said, is longtime gay ANC member Kent Boese, who withdrew his candidacy after it was too late to remove his name from the ballot, received the most votes. “As such, there is no winner for this contest” under the city’s election law, the Board of Elections said.

Elections board spokesperson Jacobs said a special election for that ANC seat will be called, with Gallagher and others who obtain the required number of ballot petition signatures will be allowed to run in the special election.

Boese withdrew his candidacy after he was nominated and subsequently approved by the D.C. Council to become director of the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

If Gallagher were to win in the special election and should Panfil win the drawing of the lot following the tie vote in his race, the total number of known LGBTQ candidates elected to ANC seats would rise to 40, a record number compared to past ANC elections.

There were 33 known LGBTQ ANC candidates who won election in 2020, which was the first year the Washington Blade kept track of the known LGBTQ ANC candidates who ran and won.

A list of the 35 winning LGBTQ ANC candidates known during the week following the Nov. 8 election can be seen here.

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