Social media hate directed at Catholics and presidential candidates led to gubernatorial appointee Gail Gordon Donegan’s resignation.
“Abortion is morally indefensible to Catholic priests bcuz it results in fewer children to rape.”
These are the words of Gail Gordon Donegan, who was recently nominated to the Virginia Council on Women by Governor Ralph Northam. Her unapologetically offensive social media presence led to a public outcry over her anti-Catholic tweets, and she resigned her post on August 28, less than two weeks after she’d taken it.
On August 16, Gov. Northam appointed Donegan to the Council, which advises the state’s executive branch on matters pertaining to women. Before the kerfuffle over her social media presence erupted, Donegan was best known for founding the memorably named Brass Ovaries PAC, a political action committee formed in 2018 with the goal of supporting women running for office. She had also been a longtime member of the Democratic Committee from her home city of Alexandria, and written various op-eds and letters to the editor relating to local Alexandria issues such as education.
At the time of her nomination, Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky said that Donegan “has spent years advocating on behalf of issues important to women across the Commonwealth.” However, after offensive anti-Catholic tweets were found on her Twitter account, Catholic groups and bishops in Virginia called for her resignation and questioned the initial appointment.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Donegan tweeted from the account @satirclAlx, with the name “Satirical Alexandria – Rated Fx by the NRA.” In March 2011, she tweeted “Go tell a Catholic they have dirt on their forehead. #waystooffend.” Her tweet regarding Catholic rape of children, quoted above, was posted in 2010.
The Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s Chief Communications Officer, Billy Atwell, issued a statement calling for Donegan’s resignation.
“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,” stated Atwell. “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.”
Deboarah Cox, an official for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, also issued a statement about the posts: “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.”
Donegan defended her tweets on August 21, telling the Richmond Times-Dispatch that “Psychological studies show that people who swear make better friends… And they’re smarter.”
The following day, she told the Times-Dispatch, “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.”
My husband is an ex-Catholic and he’s not offended by my tweets.
Northam was asked Thursday at an event promoting electric school buses if he knew about Donegan’s tweets before the appointment, but he declined to comment at length.
“I just want to reiterate that I don’t condone that kind of language,” Northam said. “And if she had chosen to stay on the commission, I would have encouraged her to refrain from any type of language that would be offensive to other folks.”
More recently, Donegan also directed her crass language toward other groups, referring in 2017 to Boy Scouts as “pussy snowflakes,” in response to an article about a Colorado Cub Scout being kicked out of his scouting group after asking a state senator questions about gun control.
Last year she wrote, “Bernie Sanders and his shithead followers need to fuck the fuck off” in response to a March 2018 protest planned against Hillary Clinton by the pro-Bernie group Our Revolution. That protest was eventually cancelled.
While the outcry against Donegan and her tweets came from many corners, condemnation wasn’t universal. On the blog Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta wrote a post encouraging Northam to stand by Donegan.
Nothing Donegan said is as bad as things Catholic priests have done. A guy who works for an organization that covered for child molesters for decades is in no position to stake a moral high ground or suggest Donegan offended ‘human dignity.’
However, on August 28, the same day that blog post was published, Donegan offered her resignation, saying that she did not want to distract from the Council’s work, as reported by CNS News.
“I’ve spent over a decade working on behalf of important women’s issues in Virginia,” Donegan said. “At the same time, I have also been the author of a Twitter account that focused on covering Northern Virginia politics from a satirical angle from Alexandria — which is why the account is named @satirclalx. I recognize that some of the jokes I told crossed the line, and I apologize to those who were hurt by them.”
Donegan has certainly paid a price for loosely speaking her mind about sensitive political issues on social media. She’s not the first political figure to do so, and it seems unlikely that she’ll be the last.
Additional reporting by Marilyn Drew Necci. Top Image via Facebook