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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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Missing gay man found ‘alive and well’

Police say Richard ‘Rick’ Woods found in good health

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Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man, was found alive and well.

D.C. police announced on Friday that Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man who police said was reported missing and last seen on July 14, has been located. But the announcement doesn’t provide information on where he was found or why he went missing.

Friends who know Woods say he operated for many years an antique wood furniture restoration business in various locations in D.C. The most recent location of his business, friends said, was in Georgetown a short distance from where police said he was last seen on the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.

“MPD does not publicly disclose the circumstances surrounding a missing person and how they are found, however we do release their flyer as well as a notification when they are located,” said D.C. police spokesperson Brianna Burch. “Mr. Woods was found in good health,” Burch told the Blade.

Police sought help from the public in their initial announcement that Woods was missing. The announcement said he was reported missing to police on Friday, July 23.

Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and LGBTQ rights advocate John Fanning, who said he has been friends with Woods for many years, said he was delighted to hear Woods was found in good condition.

“Rick is known by many in our community,” Fanning told the Blade at the time Woods was reported missing. Fanning said he and others who know Woods stand ready to provide support for him should he be in need of such support.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Woods for comment.

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Some D.C. gay bars to require proof of COVID vaccination

Action prompted by mayor’s order reinstating masks indoors

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Adams Morgan’s A League of Her Own is among the area queer bars requiring proof of vaccination for entry.

At least four D.C. gay bars announced this week on social media that they will require patrons to show proof that they have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for being admitted to the bars.

They include the Logan Circle area gay bars Number Nine and Trade, which are operated by the same co-owners, and the Adams Morgan gay sports bars Pitchers and A League of Her Own, which are also operated by the same owner and share the same building.

The four bars, which also offer dining service, announced their proof of vaccination requirement shortly after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday issued a new order reinstating the city’s requirement that facial masks be worn inside all businesses and other public establishments.

The mayor’s order applies to all vaccinated and unvaccinated people over the age of two. It was scheduled to take effect 5 a.m. Saturday, July 31.

At a July 29 news conference, Bowser pointed to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued two days earlier recommending that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in places where transmission of the coronavirus is considered “substantial” or “high.”

The mayor said that, at the advice of her public health experts, she decided to issue the new order to help curtail the rising number of COVID cases in D.C. over the past month or more due to the rapid spread of the virus’s delta variant, which is surging throughout the nation. Like other parts of the country, Bowser and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbit said people who are unvaccinated in D.C. make up nearly all of the newly infected cases.

“I know D.C. residents have been very closely following the public health guidelines, and they will embrace this,” Bowser said in referring to the new mask requirement.

The four-page order released by the mayor’s office, similar to the city’s earlier mask requirements, allows indoor patrons of restaurants and bars to remove their masks while “actively” eating or drinking.

But some representatives of restaurants and bars have pointed out that other jurisdictions, including Maryland and Virginia, have followed the CDC’s initial policy of making mask wearing a recommendation rather than a requirement.

“Mayor Bowser’s announcement that nightlife hospitality patrons must wear a mask indoors when not ‘actively eating or drinking’ renders the reinstated mandate essentially unenforceable and results in the rule being reduced to a largely theatrical requirement,” said Mark Lee, director of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a local trade association representing bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and other nightlife related businesses.

“The greatest disappointment for many venue operators and staff, however, is that the mayor’s decision does not allow an option for establishments to admit only fully vaccinated patrons and be exempt from the mandate, as a number of other jurisdictions across the country have done,” Lee said.

John Guggenmos, co-owner of the bars Trade and Number Nine, told the Washington Blade he and his co-owners adopted the proof of vaccination policy as an added means of protecting the safety of both patrons and employees of the two bars.

“We’re hopeful that this will be in effect for just a few weeks or a month or two,” Guggenmos said. “Our patrons have always been very supportive,” he said in referring to the city’s public health directives last year and early this year in which masks were required up until May of this year.

Guggenmos said Trade and Number Nine will allow an alternative to the vaccination requirement if patrons provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within the previous three days of their admission to the bars.

In its social media postings, Pitchers and A League of Her Own said their proof of vaccination requirement was based on the concern for the health of their patrons and staff.

“We will require proof a COVID vaccination until further notice at Pitchers/ALOHO and masks per the mayor,” a Facebook posting says. “We take guidelines and the health of our patrons and staff very seriously. We will accept a picture or hard copy of your COVID vaccination card,” it says. “No exceptions, no arguing, no talking to the manager.”

Tammy Truong, owner of the gay bar Uproar Lounge at 639 Florida Ave., N.W., told the Blade the bar has no immediate plans to require proof of vaccination as a requirement for admission, but Uproar will fully comply with the mayor’s order requiring indoor masks.

Justin Parker, co-owner of the nearby gay bar The Dirty Goose at 913 U St., N.W., told the Blade he and his staff decided on Friday to also put in place a requirment that patrons show either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past five days. He said a 5-day window for the COVID test, which the CDC allows in some cases, was chosen rather than three a requirement to accomodate people who may not be able to get tested during weekends.

Owners of other D.C. gay bars couldn’t immeidately be reached. But the Blade could not find any announcements by the other gay bars as of Friday afternoon that they planed to put in place a proof of vaccination requiremenet. 

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Judge dismisses lawsuit against Va. school guidelines for transgender students

Christian Action Network and other conservative groups filed suit

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Connor Climo, gay news, Washington Blade

Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge J. Frederick Watson on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies for transgender students that are to be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.

The VDOE introduced the policies in March to better protect and affirm trans and non-binary students in schools, considering they are more likely to face discrimination and harassment from their peers and students. The directives would require Virginia schools to allow them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity and pronouns and a name that reflects their gender identity.

Several conservative organizations, including the Christian Action Network, and families whose children attend Lynchburg public schools had sought to overturn the VDOE’s policies. The groups cited their need to protect their right to free speech and religion under the First Amendment.

Challenging the enactment of non-binary and trans-inclusive school policies in Virginia is not a new occurence. 

Tanner Cross, a Loudoun County teacher, was suspended in May after stating he would not use trans students’ preferred pronouns. Circuit Judge James E. Plowman, Jr., who invoked Pickering v. Board of Education,  a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a teacher that stated they have the right to provide commentary on issues of public importance without being dismissed from their position, reinstated Cross after he filed a lawsuit,  

Equality Virginia on Tuesday a statement celebrated what they described as “a win for Virginia schools and students.”

“This ruling is important progress and emphasizes the continued need to protect transgender and non-binary youth in Virginia,” said Executive Director Vee Lamneck. “These policies will create safer classrooms and will reduce bullying, discrimination and harassment. It’s imperative school boards adopt these policies as soon as possible because the lives of transgender students are at risk.”

Equality Virginia, ACLU of Virginia, and more than 50 other organizations and school board leaders across the state filed an amicus brief earlier this month encouraging the court to deny the lawsuit.

The brief’s arguments included references to historic lawsuits like Brown v. Board of Education and Grimm v. Gloucester City School Board that specifically addressed inequalities in schools for minority students.

While Tuesday’s ruling is a win for LGBTQ rights advocates in education and their respective students, there still remains a final barrier to ensure that the VDOE’s policies are sanctioned in the fall. 

“The dismissal clears one statewide hurdle for the guidelines and limits future challenges,” reports the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. “But it leaves the fight to continue at local school boards, which are currently debating how or if to implement policies before the start of the school year.”

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