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Gallaudet official sues after marriage flap

McCaskill seeks $16 million in damages for defamation, Human Rights Act violations

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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

Gallaudet University Chief Diversity Officer Angela McCaskill (left) says the school discriminated against her after she signed an anti-gay marriage petition last year. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer filed a $16 million discrimination and defamation lawsuit on Sept. 27 against the university and two out lesbian faculty members on grounds that they “tarnished” her professional reputation by implying she held anti-gay views.

The university’s president suspended Angela McCaskill from her job as Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion last October after news surfaced that she signed a petition to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the November ballot in a voter referendum.

McCaskill, a Maryland resident, explained at the time that she signed the petition when it was circulated at her church. She said her intention was to allow Maryland voters to decide on the gay marriage question and that she had taken no public position on the controversial issue.

The 39-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia accuses Gallaudet faculty members Martina “MJ” Bienvenu and Kendra Smith of pressuring Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz into violating the D.C. Human Rights act by illegally suspending McCaskill.

The lawsuit calls the suspension a form of retaliation against McCaskill for her decision to exercise her constitutional right to sign a petition on a pending civic matter.

A Gallaudet spokesperson told the Washington Post the university would have no comment on the lawsuit. Bienvenu and Smith couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. At the time of McCaskill’s suspension last October the two women told the Blade through an intermediary that they had no comment on the matter.

McCaskill’s lawsuit comes nine months after Gallaudet President Hurwitz reinstated McCaskill to her job in January. McCaskill states in her lawsuit that Hurwitz reinstated her to a slightly different position that represents a demotion.

“[O]n or about October 7-8, 2012, co-defendant, Bienvenu, and her same-sex partner, Smith, began making false and malicious statements that plaintiff was ‘anti-gay,’” the lawsuit says.

“[A]nd on those same dates, from the university campus, co-defendants, Bienvenu and Smith, falsely reported to PlanetDeafQueer.com, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (‘LGBT’) publication, that plaintiff, Gallaudet University Chief Diversity Officer, was ‘anti-gay’ in an article entitled ‘Gallaudet’s Chief Diversity Officer Sign’s Anti-gay Petition,’” the lawsuit states.

It adds, “Co-defendant, Bienvenu, and her same-sex partner, Smith, further falsely stated, ‘[S]igning that petition is an act against many of Gallaudet’s constituents.’”

The lawsuit charges Gallaudet University and Bienvenu and Smith with one count of a D.C. Human Rights Act violation, two counts of defamation, two counts of intentional infliction of emotional distress, and one count of invasion of privacy.

The suit seeks $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages for the first count of a Human Rights Act violation and $1.5 million in compensatory and $1 million in punitive damages for each of the remaining counts. The total amount of damages sought by the lawsuit comes to $16 million.

The decision to suspend McCaskill came at a time when LGBT students at the school raised concerns about the appropriateness of McCaskill appearing to side with anti-gay groups that were pushing the ballot referendum while she served as chief diversity officer, a position thought to be a manifestation of the school’s support for equality for everyone, including gay people.

“The plaintiff explained that her signature on the petition solely represented her desire to have the same-sex marriage issue vetted through public discourse so that Maryland voters could become more understanding, informed, and enlightened about the issue once they entered the polls,” the lawsuit says.

“Plaintiff further explained that it was not an ‘anti-gay’ petition and plaintiff’s signature thereupon did not express an opinion on same-sex marriage one way or another,” it says.

According to the lawsuit, Bienvenu acted in a hostile way toward McCaskill after the two met last October at Bienvenu’s request to discuss revelations that McCaskill signed the marriage petition.

“…Co-defendant Bienvenu responded in a very animated manner with her sign-voice elevated, exclaiming, ‘I am really disgusted with you!” the lawsuit says. “She asked rhetorically, ‘Are you still a member of that church?’ and then criticized plaintiff’s Christian faith and belittled her religious beliefs,” the lawsuit says.

The Gallaudet website identifies Bienvenu as a professor of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. It says she received a doctorate degree in linguistics in 2003 and served as co-chair of the Deaf Lesbians Festival from 2000 to 2004.

The website identifies Smith as chairperson of the Gallaudet Department of Counseling. She has a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies with a specialization in Counseling Education and Supervision. Among the areas she specializes in is “gay/lesbian/bisexual identity development and issues in counseling,” the website says.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. ShawGuy

    October 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    I hope Gallaudet counter-sues her for everything she owns and wins. She’s a greedy, bigoted opportunist.

    And I don’t care what she says, signing a petition to vote on other people’s civil marriage rights is signing an anti-gay petition. Period. She can smear lipstick on that pig all day long and say she was only “promoting discourse”, but that pig is still a pig!

  2. Mike G

    October 10, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Anyone who signs a petition that seeks to put basics rights up for a majority vote has no business being a diversity officer. The fact that she is suing for 16 million instead of taking responsibility for a lapse in judgement only proves that she should not be in charge of anything. If she authentically refused to pick a side, then she would not have signed the petition.

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Comings & Goings

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Troy Cline, gay news, Washington Blade
The 'Comings & Goings' column chronicles important life changes of Blade readers.

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Shin Inouye, gay news, Washington Blade
Steven McCarty

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on being named president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. He said, “I’m honored to be installed as the president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. and to be able to shepherd our programs and volunteers to impact youth where they are needed most. Our club’s new partnership with SMYAL has already turned a portion of their Youth Center in Southeast D.C. into the first Clinical Services Department in the District that offers free and affirming mental healthcare to LGBTQ Youth. As an openly gay man, I’m proud to further our club’s mission with radical empathy and inclusion.” McCarty has also recently been awarded Kiwanis’ highest honor, the George Hixson award.

McCarty is a Technical Program Specialist at stac labs in D.C. He is also founder and campaign manager at Abolish Racism 2020. He worked as a Senior Customer Success Manager,  Crowdskout. He was a workplace equality intern at Human Rights Campaign and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, in Lansing, Mich. 

McCarty earned his bachelor’s in Political Science and Communications Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Congratulations also to Shin Inouye on his appointment as Executive Vice President of Communications, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Human Rights, The Leadership Conference Education Fund. 

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference and The Education Fund said, “We are thrilled Shin Inouye will be taking on even greater responsibilities on our senior leadership team. His incredible talent and commitment to this organization and our work are truly outstanding, and his strategic leadership will no doubt continue moving us forward in the fight to protect and advance civil and human rights.”

Inouye has held a number of positions with the organization including Managing Director of Communications. Inouye also held a number of high-level positions in the Obama administration, including Press Secretary and Acting Senior Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Executive Office of the President; White House Office of Communications: Director of Specialty Media; and served as an authorized spokesperson for the Obama Inaugural Committee, with a focus on specialty media outlets, including LGBTQ, AAPI, Native American, Youth/College, Faith, and Jewish press. Prior to that Inouye was Communications Director in the Office of Congressman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and has also worked for the ACLU and as a summer intern with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. 

Inouye received a number of honors including being named One of 25 “LGBTI next generation leaders to watch” by Out in National Security and the Atlantic Council; and One of “40 Asian American Pacific Islander National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leaders” by New America and the Diversity in National Security Network.

Shin Inouye
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Youngkin reiterates opposition to marriage equality

Va. gubernatorial candidate says issue ‘legally acceptable’ in state

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(Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Glenn Youngkin in an interview with the Associated Press has reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Youngkin—a Republican who is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe to succeed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam—said in an interview published on Friday that he feels “called to love everyone.” Youngkin then reiterated his opposition to marriage equality before he added it is “legally acceptable” in the state.

“I, as governor, will support that,” Youngkin told the AP.

McAuliffe was Virginia’s governor from 2014-2018.

Same-sex couples began to legally marry in Virginia a few months after McAuliffe took office.

McAuliffe in 2014 became the first governor of a Southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding. The lesbian couple who McAuliffe married recently appeared in one of his campaign ads.

McAuliffe on Friday criticized Youngkin. “As governor, I worked my heart out to keep Virginia open and welcoming to all,” said McAuliffe in a tweet. “This type of bigotry and intolerance has no place in our commonwealth.”

The anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist group, earlier this month endorsed Youngkin, but Log Cabin Republicans are among the groups that have backed his campaign. The Human Rights Campaign in 2019 named Youngkin’s former company, the Carlyle Group, as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.

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D.C. school board calls for LGBTQ-inclusive teaching standards

Sweeping resolution proposing content in curricula approved unanimously

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Gay State Board of Education member Allister Chang.

The D.C. State Board of Education voted unanimously on Oct. 20 to approve a resolution calling for LGBTQ+ Inclusive Education Standards for the city’s public schools that “reflect on the political, economic, social, cultural, and scientific contributions and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

The two-page resolution, which was introduced by gay State Board of Education member Allister Chang, who represents Ward 2, cites national research showing that students who have access to LGBTQ+ curricula in their schools “are more likely to report lower frequency of bullying, lower levels of depression, more accepting peers, and greater feelings of safety in school.”

The resolution states that research also shows that multicultural education, including the teaching of LGBTQ topics, “helps prevent the formation of bias and prejudice and creates more democratic communities.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have long considered the local D.C. government through its mayor and City Council to be highly supportive of the LGBTQ community. But Chang and other supporters of the resolution approved by the board Wednesday night say their research shows that D.C. public schools, while supportive of LGBTQ students, are far behind the school systems in several other states in the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in school curricula.

As an example, supporters of the resolution point out that curriculum standards for social studies classes in the D.C. school system include only one mention of LGBTQ people in a teaching section related to victims of the Holocaust.   

Unlike most other cities and states, under current D.C. law, the school system is controlled by the mayor through the D.C. Department of Education, which is headed by a Deputy Mayor for Education and who, in turn and in consultation with the mayor, appoints a State Superintendent of Education who oversees the day-to-day operations of the schools.

Under a change in the education statute approved by the D.C. Council and signed by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2007, the school board, which was renamed the State Board of Education, became a mostly advisory body on education matters with some statutory authority to approve education standards on which school curricula are based.

Thus, the resolution approved by the board on Wednesday “advises” and “recommends” that the State Superintendent of Education develop school curricula, guidance for teachers, and school-based leaders and staff “in providing LGBTQ+ inclusive lessons and practices in their classrooms.”

The resolution concludes by recommending that the State Superintendent of Education conduct a survey of students within two years after the Oct. 20 adoption of the resolution “to establish baseline data and to gain an understanding of the current experiences of LGBTQ+ students across the district and what all students know and understand about the contributions and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the relevant subject areas.”

Chang and other members of the State Board of Education noted at the Oct. 20 meeting, which was virtual, that Will Beckerman, who graduated this year from D.C.’s School Without Walls High School, played an important role in conducting the research used to prepare the LGBTQ standards resolution and helped in the drafting of the resolution.

Chang noted that much of the background information used to draft the resolution came from Beckerman’s senior year school research paper and advocacy project that focuses on the topic of LGBTQ-inclusive education.

In comments supporting the resolution, Chang also spoke about how the very limited LGBTQ content he encountered during his high school days helped him accept himself as a gay youth.

“As a student myself, I don’t remember a single mention of any LGBTQ people in any of my classwork until I read Thomas Mann in my senior year in high school,” Chang said. “And in Death in Venice, this Nobel Prize winner touches upon his struggles with homosexuality but never actually names it explicitly,” Chang told fellow board members.

“And I remember holding on to this novella despite the self-hatred that’s woven throughout this story because it was the first time that I saw this aspect of my identity reflected in my class work,” he said. “My hope – and I think this hope comes true with this resolution tonight – is that future generations of LGBTQ students have more opportunities to see themselves reflected in their class work and to feel less isolated by their class work than I did growing up.”

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will endorse the school system changes proposed by the resolution approved by the State Board of Education.

The full text of the resolution follows:

State Board of Education Resolution

On LGBTQ+ Inclusive Education Standards

SR21-7

WHEREAS, the 2019 District of Columbia Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students make up 15.9 percent of high school students in the District and transgender students make up1.9 percent of District high school students;

WHEREAS, in the District, these students, in comparison to their heterosexual peers, experience double the rate of bullying on school property, report higher rates of being removed from class for disciplinary reasons, and are more than twice as likely to experience suicidal ideation;

WHEREAS, national data shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are significantly more likely to receive grades of D or F than their heterosexual peers and were more likely to be truant;

WHEREAS, consistent research suggests that students with LGBTQ+ inclusive curricula in their schools are more likely to report lower frequency of bullying, lower levels of depression, more accepting peers, and greater feelings of safety in school—and this safety leads students to report higher attendance, higher GPAs, a greater sense of belonging in the school community, and higher educational aspirations;

WHEREAS, research shows that multicultural education helps prevent the formation of bias and prejudice and creates more democratic communities ; 

WHEREAS, the State Board of Education recognizes the need to have revised social studies standards that create “windows and mirrors” so students see themselves and people like them reflected in the content of standards and curriculum, as well as having the opportunity to learn about diverse people, cultures, places, and experiences unlike themselves—explicitly noting that the current standards emphasize the lives of presidents and other figures who held/hold power and under-represent or lack representation of people and groups like those identifying as LGBTQ+, and their respective histories;

WHEREAS, in the State Board of Education’s review and revision of the social studies standards, the State Board called upon the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to “seek standards writers who reflect the demographics and experiences of District students and of the communities they are writing about” sharing a list of examples that included writers identifying as LGBTQ+;

WHEREAS, the State Board of Education is committed to ensuring students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be engaged global citizens in a diverse democratic society; and,

WHEREAS, the State Board of Education has a commitment to promote equity, introduce policies to reduce disparities between students, and create safe school environments for all students.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT, upon the next revision of any District of Columbia state education standards, the State Board of Education should adapt standards, when appropriate, that reflect on the political, economic, social, cultural, and scientific contributions and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the State Board of Education advises the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to provide guidance to teachers and school-based leaders and staff on creating inclusive lessons in science and English language arts (ELA) classes that align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core ELA standards, respectively;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the State Board of Education recommends that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) implement professional development for teachers and school-based leaders and staff to aid them in providing LGBTQ+ inclusive lessons and practices in their classrooms, such that that the professional development includes: workshops for local education agencies (LEAs) and teachers to draft curriculum related to LGBTQ+ topics in their subject areas, lessons on use of inclusive language in the classroom, lessons on ensuring LGBTQ+ students’ safety and confidentiality while maintaining respect for their name and pronouns, and mandatory diversity training related to the LGBTQ+ community; and,

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED THAT, the State Board of Education recommends that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) survey students within two (2) years of adoption of this resolution to establish baseline date and to gain an understanding of the current experiences of LGBTQ+ students across the district and what all students know and understand about the contributions and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the relevant subject areas.

https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/2019%20DC%20YRBS%20Report.pdf

Brikett, Michelle et al. “Sexual-orientation disparities in school: the meditational role of indicators of victimization in achievement and truancy because of feeling unsafe.” American Journal of Public Health vol. 104, 6 (2014): 1124-8. doi: 10.2105/AJHP.2013.301785

Kosciw, Joseph G., et al. “The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools.” GLSEN, GLSEN, 2020, glsen.org.

Camicia, Steven P. Critical Democratic Education and LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum: Opportunities and Constraints. Routledge Focus, 2016.

Camicia, Steven P. “Prejudice Reduction through Multicultural Education: Connecting Multiple Literatures.” Social Studies Research and Practice, vol. 2, no. 2, 2007, pp. 219–227.

socstrpr.org/files/Vol%25202/Issue%25202%2520-%2520Summer%25202007/Action%2520Research/2.2.6.pdf

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