The leader of the campaign supporting Maryland’s same-sex marriage law in a Nov. 6 voter referendum is calling on D.C.’s Gallaudet University to reverse a decision to suspend a campus diversity officer for signing a petition calling for overturning the marriage equality law.
Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, released a statement Wednesday evening expressing opposition to Gallaudet’s decision to place Dr. Angela McCaskill, a Maryland resident and the school’s Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion, on paid administrative leave.
“We strongly disagree with the decision to put the chief diversity officer on leave and hope she is reinstated immediately,” Levin said in his statement. “Everyone is entitled to free speech and to their own opinion about Question 6, which is about treating everyone fairly and equally under the law.”
Levin’s statement followed by several hours a statement from Derek McCoy, chair of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, one of the leading groups calling on voters to defeat the same-sex marriage law in the referendum.
“I join an ever-growing number of Marylanders in expressing my complete dismay over Gallaudet University’s decision to place Dr. Angela McCaskill on administrative leave for signing the marriage referendum petition,” McCoy said.
The statements by Levin and McCoy marked a rare turn of events that placed the two opposing leaders and their organizations in agreement over McCaskill’s situation.
Gallaudet University is one of the nation’s most prominent colleges for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The news that McCaskill had been placed on paid administrative leave came from a statement issued on Wednesday by Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz.
“It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently,” Hurwitz said.
“I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university,” he said. “In the meantime an interim chief Diversity Officer will be announced in the near future.”
McCaskill’s decision to sign the referendum petition was first reported by the blog Planet DeafQueer, a news site widely read in the LGBT deaf community throughout the country.
The blog reported that an unidentified Gallaudet faculty member filed a complaint against McCaskill with the university last week after discovering McCaskill had signed the petition that called for a referendum on the same-sex marriage law in Maryland.
Opponents of the marriage law gathered more than 200,000 petition signatures, far more than needed to place the law on the ballot in November after the Maryland General Assembly passed it and Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the marriage equality measure in March.
In July, the Maryland board of elections made available to the public a database of all those who signed the petition. The Washington Blade published the database.
The unidentified faculty member at Gallaudet reportedly accessed the information from the Blade and discovered that Angela Patrice McCaskill of Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County was among those who signed the petition.
Planet DeafQueer reports that McCaskill’s decision to sign the petition came as a shock to the school’s LGBT students because she was a strong supporter of the school’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Ally (LGBTQA) Resource Center, which opened on National Coming Out day on Oct. 11, 2011.
The school’s website says her duties include promoting diversity and inclusiveness in all of the university’s programs and activities for all groups, including LGBT people.
“LGBT students, faculty and staff we spoke to said they felt shock, disappointment, anger and betrayal upon learning of the signed petition,” Planet DeafQueer reported in an Oct. 8 posting. “Some are calling for Dr. McCaskill’s resignation. Others are waiting for an official response from Dr. McCaskill and wondering if it will be possible for her to regain her trust,” the blog reported.
McCaskill could not immediately be reached for comment. Gallaudet’s official spokesperson, Catherine Murphy, didn’t return a call seeking comment as of late Wednesday.
According to Planet DeafQueer, prior to filing the complaint, the faculty member who discovered the signature confronted McCaskill about why she signed the anti-gay petition.
“Dr. McCaskill confirmed that she had in fact signed the petition and explained that she had done so while at church, after her preacher had preached against gay marriage,” Planet DeafQueer reported the faculty member as saying. “As she was leaving, her husband pointed to the petition and she signed it without giving it further thought.”
The blog report added, “Dr. McCaskill is expected to issue an apology.”
A source familiar with Gallaudet University, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Blade Hurwitz’s decision to place McCaskill on administrative leave has aggravated what the source called longstanding racial and gay-straight tensions within the campus community.
“There is a long history of competition between black and white deaf people and gays and straights on this campus,” said the source.
McCaskill became the first deaf African-American female to earn a Ph.D. from Gallaudet, according to her official biography on the university website.
The source noted that LGBT students and faculty members at Gallaudet were genuinely upset that someone they viewed as a supporter and ally would sign an anti-gay petition, especially in her role as head of the school’s diversity and inclusion program.
But others, the source said, view the development as an overly hasty decision by Hurwitz, who is white, to remove one of the university’s few high-level black administrators over her decision to exercise her First Amendment right to sign a petition in her role as a private citizen of Maryland.
The source said members of an anonymous email network of people affiliated with Gallaudet known as the “Gallynet” denounced the decision to place McCaskill on administrative leave.
“Angela is tarred and feathered and lynched without ever having a chance to defend herself. Shame,” one anonymous person said in an email sent through the network. “So now it’s the LGBT community vs. us black deaf. Sigh!”
The source who spoke to the Blade expressed disagreement with this person’s claim that LGBT deaf people and black deaf people at Gallaudet were at odds with each other.
“The deaf gays, both black and white, are often caught in the middle of this,” the source said.