January 8, 2013 at 8:17 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gallaudet president reinstates chief diversity officer
Angela McCaskill, Wyndal Gordon, Maryland marriage petition, same sex marriage, gay marriage, Gallaudet University, Washington Blade, gay news

Angela McCaskill was placed on leave by Gallaudet University from her job as a diversity officer after it was revealed she signed an anti-gay marriage petition. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gallaudet University announced late Monday that it has reinstated its chief diversity officer, who was placed on paid administrative leave in October for signing a petition to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum.

“With this communication I am announcing that Dr. Angela McCaskill has returned to campus to resume her full-time duties and responsibilities as Chief Diversity Officer,” Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz said in an email sent to students, faculty, and staff members.

Hurwitz made the decision to place McCaskill on leave after news surfaced on campus in early October that she signed the petition circulated by same-sex marriage opponents seeking to overturn the marriage equality law passed earlier in the year by the Maryland General Assembly.

Anti-gay groups opposing the marriage law immediately denounced Hurwitz’s action, saying it confirmed their predictions that the law would lead to intolerance toward people of faith who oppose gay marriage. The opponents noted that McCaskill, a Maryland resident, signed the petition at her church.

In a news conference in Annapolis one week after what supporters called the suspension from her job, McCaskill said the action violated her right as a citizen to petition the government to give voters the opportunity to decide on a controversial issue. She declined to say whether she would vote for or against the marriage equality law in the November election.

Marriage equality supporters, including Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, joined opponents in calling on Gallaudet to reinstate McCaskill, saying they, too, believe she shouldn’t be penalized for expressing her personal views on the matter.

Voters upheld the law in a close vote, making Maryland along with two other states – Maine and Washington – the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. Same-sex marriages began in Maryland shortly after midnight on New Years Day.

In his email message on Monday, Hurwitz didn’t say whether the reinstatement was based on any conditions. At the time he placed McCaskill on leave, Hurwitz hinted that he was sympathetic to concerns raised by gay and lesbian students on campus that it was inappropriate for the campus diversity officer to push for a ballot measure seeking to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry.

At her news conference in Annapolis, McCaskill startled some gay activists when she identified two out lesbian faculty members at Gallaudet whom she said persuaded Hurwitz take action against her for signing the ballot petition.

When reached by the Blade, faculty members Martina “MJ” Bienvenu and Kendra Smith declined to comment, saying they preferred that the matter be a “discussion” between the university and McCaskill.

“During the past three months a large number of you have taken the initiative to communicate with me,” Hurwitz said in his email. “This has been a period of reflection for all of us. I am deeply appreciative of the time you have taken to communicate your views, of the clearly heartfelt manner in which you have expressed those thoughts, and of the overall maturity you have shown in your willingness to consider the differing views others may hold.”

He added, “The work of the University’s Office of diversity and Inclusion is vital and must continue in an active and vibrant way. I personally look forward to working with Dr. McCaskill on the work of that office.”

McCaskill’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. At the Annapolis news conference, Gordon said the university’s action “tarnished” McCaskill’s reputation. He said that on her behalf, he had asked the university to compensate McCaskill for damages, in addition to reinstating her, and hinted that she would consider filing a lawsuit over the matter.

University spokesperson Kaitlin Luna, who provided the Blade with a copy of Hurwitz’s email statement, said the university would have no further comment.

“As for the other questions, they are legal matters, which the university cannot speak to,” she said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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