RICHMOND — One of Gov. Ralph Northam’s new appointees to a state council that advises him on women’s issues has a history of making derogatory attacks on Twitter and making jokes about Catholics and Catholic priests and pedophilia.
Northam’s office announced Aug. 16 that Gail Gordon Donegan, a Democratic activist from Alexandria, was among new appointees to the Virginia Council on Women. The 18-member council advises the governor and General Assembly on women’s issues, awards scholarships and develops programming.
Northam in January issued a proclamation recognizing 2019 as a year of reconciliation and civility in Virginia. Asked if the governor still believes Donegan is the most qualified person for the appointment, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky did not answer.
Donegan “has spent years advocating on behalf of issues important to women across the Commonwealth,” Yarmosky responded by email, adding: “The governor certainly does not condone this language.”
Donegan, a corporate lawyer, regularly tweets pictures of herself at political events and rallies with Democratic elected officials, including Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. She tweets under the handle “Satirical Alexandria — Rated Fx by the NRA” and her account has a picture of herself on the profile.
In a phone call on Thursday, Donegan defended her social media posts.
“Psychological studies show that people who swear make better friends,” she said. “... And they’re smarter.”
In a phone call on Friday, she said: “I will say for the record that my father was severely beaten in Catholic foster homes and I am an atheist. My father was orphaned at age 4, sent to live in Catholic foster homes and severely beaten until he ran away at age 14.”
She added: “My husband is an ex-Catholic and he’s not offended by my tweets.”
She declined further comment.
After reviewing some of Donegan’s Twitter posts, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington issued a statement of disappointment in Northam.
“Governor Northam’s appointment of Gail Gordon Donegan to the Virginia Council on Women is disappointing, particularly given her documented use of social media to offend members of the Catholic faith,” Billy Atwell, chief communications officer for the diocese, said in the statement.
“Ms. Gordon Donegan has a record of ridiculing Catholic beliefs and practices and trafficking in stereotypes that would disqualify her from this role had they targeted any other category of persons. Her statements are offensive to human dignity and fail to reflect the depth of character one would expect of a leader in our Commonwealth.”
Deborah Cox, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, issued a statement saying the postings “are extremely offensive to Catholics and the Catholic faith. ... We would expect anyone appointed to a council or commission for the Commonwealth to be respectful of all faith groups and civil in his or her public comments — including social media — given their status as a representative of the Commonwealth, appointed by the governor.”
Among many derogatory public postings on Twitter going back to 2009, Donegan tweeted “F--- YOU!” at Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and in 2010; wrote “Abortion is morally indefensible to Catholic priests bcuz it results in fewer children to rape.”
She also has sent tweets using vulgar and derogatory language about African-American political philosopher Cornel West; former Republican congresswomen Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota; state Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Chesterfield; Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his supporters; the Boy Scouts and Vanity Fair editor in chief Radkiha Jones.
Donegan retweeted a tweet in 2010 that said Christmas is “the one time of year the Catholic Church is allowed to focus on a little boy.”
In response to a 2011 news story about Catholics in New York being subjected to Hepatitis A by taking communion on Christmas, Donegan wrote “LOLz.”
Donegan’s appointment was announced Aug. 16 in what was a weekly batch of appointments announced by the governor’s office, which names about 900 people annually to state boards and commissions.
The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website says serving on a state board or commission is an honor and a privilege, but applicants should be aware that “in an open and democratic government, the activities of boards and commissions are subject to public and press scrutiny.”