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Gallaudet president reinstates chief diversity officer

University, McCaskill mum on possible terms of reinstatement

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

Angela McCaskill was placed on leave by Gallaudet University from her job as a diversity officer after it was revealed she signed an anti-gay marriage petition. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gallaudet University announced late Monday that it has reinstated its chief diversity officer, who was placed on paid administrative leave in October for signing a petition to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum.

“With this communication I am announcing that Dr. Angela McCaskill has returned to campus to resume her full-time duties and responsibilities as Chief Diversity Officer,” Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz said in an email sent to students, faculty, and staff members.

Hurwitz made the decision to place McCaskill on leave after news surfaced on campus in early October that she signed the petition circulated by same-sex marriage opponents seeking to overturn the marriage equality law passed earlier in the year by the Maryland General Assembly.

Anti-gay groups opposing the marriage law immediately denounced Hurwitz’s action, saying it confirmed their predictions that the law would lead to intolerance toward people of faith who oppose gay marriage. The opponents noted that McCaskill, a Maryland resident, signed the petition at her church.

In a news conference in Annapolis one week after what supporters called the suspension from her job, McCaskill said the action violated her right as a citizen to petition the government to give voters the opportunity to decide on a controversial issue. She declined to say whether she would vote for or against the marriage equality law in the November election.

Marriage equality supporters, including Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, joined opponents in calling on Gallaudet to reinstate McCaskill, saying they, too, believe she shouldn’t be penalized for expressing her personal views on the matter.

Voters upheld the law in a close vote, making Maryland along with two other states – Maine and Washington – the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. Same-sex marriages began in Maryland shortly after midnight on New Years Day.

In his email message on Monday, Hurwitz didn’t say whether the reinstatement was based on any conditions. At the time he placed McCaskill on leave, Hurwitz hinted that he was sympathetic to concerns raised by gay and lesbian students on campus that it was inappropriate for the campus diversity officer to push for a ballot measure seeking to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry.

At her news conference in Annapolis, McCaskill startled some gay activists when she identified two out lesbian faculty members at Gallaudet whom she said persuaded Hurwitz take action against her for signing the ballot petition.

When reached by the Blade, faculty members Martina “MJ” Bienvenu and Kendra Smith declined to comment, saying they preferred that the matter be a “discussion” between the university and McCaskill.

“During the past three months a large number of you have taken the initiative to communicate with me,” Hurwitz said in his email. “This has been a period of reflection for all of us. I am deeply appreciative of the time you have taken to communicate your views, of the clearly heartfelt manner in which you have expressed those thoughts, and of the overall maturity you have shown in your willingness to consider the differing views others may hold.”

He added, “The work of the University’s Office of diversity and Inclusion is vital and must continue in an active and vibrant way. I personally look forward to working with Dr. McCaskill on the work of that office.”

McCaskill’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. At the Annapolis news conference, Gordon said the university’s action “tarnished” McCaskill’s reputation. He said that on her behalf, he had asked the university to compensate McCaskill for damages, in addition to reinstating her, and hinted that she would consider filing a lawsuit over the matter.

University spokesperson Kaitlin Luna, who provided the Blade with a copy of Hurwitz’s email statement, said the university would have no further comment.

“As for the other questions, they are legal matters, which the university cannot speak to,” she said.

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Maryland

Prince George’s County library system launches banned book club

First discussion to take place in Hyattsville on June 14

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(Bigstock photo)

The Prince George’s County Memorial Library System has launched its Rock Banned Book Club.

The club will feature monthly discussions of the 13 top banned books from 2022, most of which focus on LGBTQ-specific themes. 

The club’s first discussion, which will take place at the Hyattsville Branch Library on June 14, will be on “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. 

Kobabe’s memoir won the 2020 American Library Association Alex Award and recounts Kobabe’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality through adolescence and adulthood. According to the American Library Association, the book faced the most censorship challenges of any novel at 151.

“We’re seeing nationally the highest rate of challenges to books in libraries since the data has been collected by the American Library Association,” Nicholas Brown, acting co-chief executive officer of the library, said. “I think what happens with all of the discourse around book banning is that, oftentimes, not everyone participating in that discourse is actually taking the time to read the full works and discuss them and understand where the author might be coming from and whose stories are being reflected in these books.”

Along with the book club, the library system is hosting a Pride celebration at the Hyattsville branch on Saturday from 12 – 4 p.m. It will feature a panel discussion, vogue and runway workshops, free HIV testing and more. 

The library system will host its second annual Rainbow Festival on June 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bowie Branch Library with family-friendly events like craft stations, story time and a live DJ. In April, the library system won a Top Innovator Award from the Urban Libraries Council for its banned books campaign.

“I think a lot of folks don’t always realize that your local public library is kind of the front line of democracy and we always have been,” Brown said. “Public libraries across the country are very united on this and if the right to read continues to be under threat like it’s been, it is not a good time for the state of our democracy.”

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District of Columbia

Bowser: No credible threats to D.C. Pride events

Mayor spoke with the Blade after flag-raising ceremony at the Wilson Building

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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at the flag-raising of the Progress Pride flag at the Wilson Building in D.C. on June 1, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday said authorities have not received any credible threats to upcoming Pride events.

“We don’t have any to report,” she told the Washington Blade.

“MPD is constantly working with all of our agencies to make sure we have safe special events and we’re going to keep going with our planning, like we do every year,” added Bowser. “There’s always a scan for any threats to the District.”

Bowser spoke with the Blade after she joined D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Council members Anita Bonds, Charles Allen, Kenyon McDuffie and Zachary Parker, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, D.C. Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office Director Japer Bowles and other officials and activists in raising the Progress Pride flag in front of the Wilson Building.

The Blade last month reported D.C. police are investigating a bomb threat a Twitter user made against the annual District Pride concert that will take place at the Lincoln Theater on June 29. Bowles in a May 19 statement said his office reported the tweet, but further stressed that “no credible threat at this time has been made.”

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Maryland

Moore issues Pride month proclamation

Governor on May 3 signed Trans Health Equity Act

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Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (Public domain photo/Twitter)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Thursday proclaimed June as Pride month in recognition of  “the contributions, resilience, courage and joy of LGBTQIA+ Marylanders,” according to a press release.

“In Maryland, we lead with love and inclusion. I want everyone in our LGBTQIA+ community to know that they deserve to be seen for who they are, and our administration will stand with them in the fight for equality and equity,” Moore said. “We need to elevate the stories, embrace the courage, and celebrate the humanity of our LGBTQIA+ community — and as long as I am governor, we will take the steps forward to protect and celebrate all Marylanders.”

Moore on March 31 became the first governor in Maryland history to recognize the Transgender Day of Visibility and last month he signed into law the Trans Health Equity Act into law, which requires Maryland Medicaid to provide coverage for gender-affirming care beginning next year.

“This month is a celebration of the beauty and uniqueness of the queer community, but it’s also a time to reaffirm our commitment to uplifting LGBTQIA+ Marylanders and continuing to fight against hatred, discrimination, and bigotry,” Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller said in the same press release that Moore’s office released. “LGBTQIA+ Marylanders deserve to be who they are, to live their pride — without fear or having to hide. This administration will always stand alongside and protect the rights of all Marylanders.”

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