Gallaudet University Chief Diversity Officer Angela McCaskill, who was placed on paid administrative leave after it was disclosed that she had signed a petition at her church calling for the same-sex marriage measure to be placed on the November ballot, said at a news conference Oct. 16 in Annapolis that she was treated unfairly by university President T. Alan Hurwitz and that she wants her job back.

Speaking through an interpreter, McCaskill said she “dismayed that Gallaudet University is still a university of intolerance, a university that manages by intimidation, a university that allows bullying among faculty, staff and students.”

She has has been on administrative leave since Oct. 10, after a faculty member at Gallaudet who was perusing the list of names of those who had signed the petition saw hers and reported it to the university. The petition recently became public and some gay marriage supporters struck out at signers, characterizing them as anti-gay.

McCaskill, who has worked at Gallaudet for 24 years, is the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate degree from the university. She said she and her husband signed the petition at Reid Temple AME in Glenn Dale some time ago because she felt voters should decide if same-sex marriage should be legalized in Maryland. She has not stated what her personal belief is on the subject.

Hurwitz said in a university-wide statement that McCaskill was placed on administrative leave because she “participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as a Chief Diversity Officer.” He said he planned to name an interim chief diversity officer while school officials review McCaskill’s case.

At the same time, he said, he issued a statement to “indicate forcefully that Gallaudet University would like to work with…McCaskill, to enable her to return to the community from her administrative leave.”

Gallaudet media relations officials did not respond to requests by the AFRO for information about university rules on employee actions outside of their official work capacities.

At the news conference, J. Gordon Wyndal, McCaskill’s attorney, said his client “is not anti-gay, she’s pro-democracy.” She was among 200,000 voters who called for a referendum to let voters decide if Maryland’s Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012, which extends marriage rights to same-sex couples, would become law.

Maryland voters will address the issue Nov. 6 in Question 7 on the ballot.
McCaskill’s decision to sign the petition was disclosed on website Planet Deafqueer. In recent days, supporters and opponents of same sex marriage in Maryland have come out to support McCaskill and criticize the university, including Maryland Marriage for Equality issued a statement saying the group opposed the university’s action.

“We strongly disagree with the decision to put the chief diversity officer on leave and hope she is reinstated immediately,” the statement said.

McCaskill’s church, Reid Temple, also issued a statement, saying McCaskill “and her family have been subjected to threats and intimidation as a result of the media coverage of the actions taken by President Hurwitz on behalf of Gallaudet University.” The statement also said, “the unfair treatment of Dr. McCaskill is a warning of what is to come if same-sex marriage becomes law in Maryland.”

Derek McCoy, chairman of the Maryland Marriage Alliance which opposes same-sex marriage, questioned the university’s actions.

“Dr. McCaskill’s decision to sign the petition does not automatically declare her support for or against same-sex marriage,” he said in a statement. “It merely indicates that she wants to see the decision made by the people and not the legislature. But if her employer is able to restrict her right to engage in the petition-gathering phase of democracy, are they also allowed to enter the voting booth and dictate how she votes?” 

Teria Rogers

Special to the AFRO