ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer said her reputation was unfairly “tarnished” last week when the university placed her on administrative leave for signing a petition earlier this year to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum.
At a news conference outside the Maryland State Capitol Building in Annapolis, Angela McCaskill, who served as Gallaudet’s Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion, identified an out lesbian faculty member as the one she claims persuaded Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz to “retaliate” against her by suspending her and essentially calling for her “termination.”
She identified the faculty member as Martina Bienvenu and said that Bienvenu and her partner, Kendra Smith, acted as “extremists” by advocating for the university to unfairly discipline her for signing a petition McCaskill said she had a constitutional right to sign.
Bienvenu and Smith couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
“I was shocked, hurt, insulted. I was humiliated,” she said, adding that Hurwitz sought to punish her for merely exercising her private right as a Maryland resident to sign a petition to allow the voters to make the final decision on whether the same-sex marriage law should be retained or overturned.
“They have attempted to intimidate me and tarnish my reputation,” she said.
McCaskill’s news conference came hours after the university released a statement saying it wants to talk to McCaskill about reaching an agreement that could lead to her reinstatement.
Her attorney, J. Wydal Gordon, told the news conference McCaskill suffered damages by the university’s action and she would seek compensation for the damages. He declined to say whether McCaskill planned to file a lawsuit and seek monetary compensation.
“We will gladly meet with them,” he said of the university offer to discuss ways to reinstate McCaskill.
McCaskill stated repeatedly that she remains neutral on the gay marriage ballot referendum. She said her decision to sign the petition to place the marriage question on the ballot was based on her strong belief that all controversial issues should be put before the voters in Maryland.
She said she is a strong supporter of the LGBT community and noted that she has pushed for funding for Gallaudet’s one-year-old Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Ally (LGBTQA) Resource Center.
Also speaking at the news conference in support of McCaskill’s reinstatement was Maryland State Rep. Aisha Braveboy, who chairs the state legislature’s Black Caucus. Braveboy told the Blade that some caucus members support the same-sex marriage law while others oppose it. She said the Caucus was “highly troubled” that Gallaudet would penalize McCaskill for exercising her rights as a Maryland citizen to promote democracy through the petition and referendum process.
McCaskill thanked by name both Josh Levin, chair of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the lead organization advocating for support of the same-sex marriage law in the referendum campaign; Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, and Derek McCoy, head of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, another group campaigning against the marriage equality law. McCaskill noted that all three people spoke out against her suspension and called on Gallaudet to reinstate her.