A Human Rights Campaign executive resigned this week after using a racial slur on two separate occasions.
As first reported by Politico, Human Rights Foundation chief Mary Beth Maxwell stepped down on Wednesday following internal reports “she had used the ‘N-word’ twice in front of a colleague.”
In a memo announcing her resignation to staff, HRC President Chad Griffin claimed Maxwell had used the racial epithet when recalling “an upsetting personal story.” He added that she repeated the word a second time when “describing an external situation that [she] found horrifying, in which racial and homophobic slurs were used.”
After the organization received preliminary results of an internal investigation on Monday, Griffin told HRC staffers Maxwell was suspended without pay. He called her behavior “inappropriate and harmful.”
“[T]he lesson learned here is that not having bad intent in using the word does not make it acceptable,” Griffin claimed, adding: “I want to be clear: Intent does not matter. It is impact of the word that matters. It is simply never acceptable for that word to be said by an employee in the workplace, period.”
Maxwell expressed “deep regret” for the incidents.
“While in each instance I was conveying something that really happened — in the first I was emotional and scared that it had been said and in the second feeling urgency about addressing a deeply racist and homophobic encounter that a colleague recounted — I should never have said that word out loud,” she claimed. “Period.”
In 2015, Maxwell was tapped as senior vice president for programs, research and training for the educational arm of the Human Rights Campaign.
Prior to her role at HRC, the 53-year-old served as the executive director of American Rights at Work. Maxwell was also rumored to be on the shortlist for Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration, which would have made her the first openly lesbian official to serve in the post.
Although she was tapped as a senior advisor in the Cabinet office, the Secretary position went to former Congresswoman Hilda Solis instead.
In a bio posted to HRC’s website, the organization claimed Maxwell “was a key figure in shaping the Administration’s policy agenda for working families, including raising the minimum wage, expanding paid leave, ensuring labor standards for home care workers, and advocating for collective bargaining rights and workers’ voice in the workplace.”
“She played a lead role in the Administration’s many accomplishments for LGBTQ workers,” it concluded.
Her bio was removed following her resignation.
While HRC has declined to comment publicly on the incident, the Washington Blade reported the company is developing internal policies for staff on how to discuss hate speech in the workplace. Those guidelines “will be developed within two weeks and incorporated into mandatory staff trainings,” according to the Blade.
Insiders claimed the organization did the right thing in parting ways with Maxwell following the incidents.
“HRC has become an effective leader in the alliance of organizations fighting for racial justice,” a source close to HRC told Politico. “This was the right outcome. An organization has to live the values it espouses.”
The controversy, however, follows another bout of bad press for the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group.
Buzzfeed reported on Wednesday that HRC is backing incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo over challenger Cynthia Nixon in the New York Democratic primaries. The organization plans to mobilize supporters to make phone calls on behalf of his campaign, which has already raised $30 million.
If elected in November, Nixon would be the state’s first openly LGBTQ governor.
In contrast, Cuomo is widely blamed for the New York State Legislature’s failure to pass legislation banning conversion therapy or outlawing discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing and employment. Cuomo signed an executive order restricting orientation change efforts two years ago, but the legislature has yet to take comprehensive action.
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