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Posts for January, 2013

McCaskill back at Gallaudet

Timothy Kincaid

January 8th, 2013


Gallaudet University has reinstated its chief diversity officer after a 3-month paid suspension for signing a petition circulated by opponents of gay marriage in Maryland.

University President T. Alan Hurwitz announced the reinstatement of Angela McCaskill in an email to the campus community on Monday. The statement doesn’t elaborate on the reasons for the reinstatement, and university officials declined further comment.

The reappointment was made while students were on break. is not pleased

We are extremely disappointed to learn that Dr. Angela McCaskill, who signed an anti-gay petition to bring marriage equality up for vote in Maryland, has been reinstated in her position at Gallaudet as Chief Diversity Officer.

As for McCaskill,

“I am not anti-gay. I never have been and I never will be,” says McCaskill.

No, no, of course not. Heavens to Murgatroyd, how could anyone have gotten that impression.

Anti-gay McCaskill ad uses copyrighted material

Timothy Kincaid

October 18th, 2012

From the Baltimore Sun:

Gallaudet University is asking the group opposing Maryland’s same-sex marriage law to take down a new commercial that features a university staff member who was suspended for signing a referendum petition.

“The video they are using, the ad, is actually copyrighted by us,” said Katherine Murphy, executive director of communications and public relations at Gallaudet in Washington. “We’re in touch with our attorneys to have them follow up with the group to ask them to take down the ad.”

Deana Bass, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Marriage Alliance, said the group has not heard any formal complaints about the spot, and it has no intention of removing it.

“It is a fair use of the footage,” said Bass. “At this point, [the incident] is in the public space. We want people to understand what is at stake with Question 6.”

On Tuesday, J. Wyndal Gordon, a lawyer for McCaskill, told The Baltimore Sun that his client had not agreed to be featured in any advertising about the same-sex marriage referendum. He said McCaskill’s decision to sign the petition to allow voters to decide the issue was not an indication of her position on same-sex marriage.

Gordon later told a Washington television station that if McCaskill “had her druthers,” the commercial would be pulled. He did not return calls Wednesday evening.

It’s fair to note that she absolutely does have her “druthers” about her response to the ad. She could publicly denounce those who seek to use her story to their advantage. She has not done so. She has accused Gallaudet of a host of things, but she has not had one single public word of criticism for the anti-gay campaign. One must assume that is because she doesn’t want to.

McCaskill anti-gay marriage ad runs

Timothy Kincaid

October 17th, 2012

As anticipated, the paid suspension of Dr. Angela McCaskill from her job as Chief Diversity Officer has been the feature of an ad opposing Question Six:

YouTube Preview Image

So far, McCaskill has had nothing to say about the anti-gay campaign’s use of her image. That is not to say that she doesn’t care about her image – quite the contrary (WaPo)

The president of Gallaudet University said Tuesday that the chief diversity officer who was put on administrative leave after signing an anti-gay marriage petition is welcome to eventually return to her position.

But an attorney representing Angela McCaskill said that would likely only happen if the university compensates McCaskill for the emotional distress she endured, along with the damage to her reputation.

But I guess being the face of the campaign to take away the marriage rights granted by the legislature does not do any damage to her reputation. Or none that she cares about.


They promised us Question Six protects people who oppose gay marriage. But it doesn’t.

Dr. Angela McCaskill is an official at Gallaudet University. She signed the petition putting Question Six on the ballot. Then she was suspended from her job.

She’s not alone. When marriage was redefined elsewhere – as Question Six does – people who believe in traditional marriage have been punished. They were threatened. He was fired. They were sued. Who will be next?

We’re all at risk under Question Six.

It’s Getting Very Ugly in Maryland (Updated)

Jim Burroway

October 16th, 2012

Angela McCaskill speaking at a Press Conference in Annapolis

The Washington Blade has the full details of a press conference held today by Callaudet University’s chief diversity officer, Angela McCaskill, who was placed on paid administrative leave after a previously unidentified faculty member learned that McCaskill had signed a petition to place Question 6 on the Maryland ballot. McCaskill identified the faculty members as Martina Mienvenu and Kendra Smith. According to The Blade:

“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 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

There’s another way in which this is getting really ugly. Also appearing at the news conference was Maryland State Rep. Aisha Braveboy, chair of the legislature’s Black Caucus. Noting that caucus members fall on both sides of Question 6, she told reporters that the Caucus was “highly troubled” that McCaskell was being penalized for participating in the petition and referendum process. African-American support for Question 6 risen significantly since January, but that could be jeopardinzed if McCaskill is seen as being penalized for exercising her rights as a voter. There are far, far too many ugly historical precedents in our country’s racial history for that to go unnoticed.

Update: Gov. Martin O’Mally, who supports Question 6, has joined Marylanders for Marriage Equality in calling for McCaskill’s reinstatement. “Everyone has a right to their opinion, and everyone has a right to participate in the political process,” Gov. O’Malley said in a statement. Lt Gov. Anthony Brown, another Question 6 supporter, has also called for McCaskill’s reinstatement. Meanwhile, opponents of Question 6 told the Baltimore Sun that they will run television commercials “using the Gallaudet incident as an example of the intolerance they say would accompany passage of Question 6.”

Gallaudet University President “Expects a Resolution” to Allow McCaskill to Stay

Jim Burroway

October 16th, 2012

Chris Geidner reports that Gallaudet University’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Angela McCaskill, is scheduled to hold a press conference with her lawyer in Annapolis, MD., today, possibly to discuss legal action that she may be considering after Gallaudet’s president, Alan Hurwitz, placed her on administrative leave. Hurwitz placed McCaskil on paid leave after it was revealed that McCaskill signed a petition forcing Maryland’s same-sex marriage law to go on the ballot as Question 6. Hours before that news conference was set to take place, Hurwitz issued a statement “indicat(ing) forcefully that Gallaudet University would like to work with its Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Angela McCaskill, to enable her to return to the community from her administrative leave.”

 I placed her on paid administrative leave as a prudent action to allow the university—and Dr. McCaskill—the time to consider this question after the emotions of first reactions subsided. While this has become an issue beyond our campus, as President of Gallaudet University, my number one concern is our university community—our students, faculty and staff and so many others who support us. I act on their behalf, not with any agenda other than their well-being as all of us work to prepare these university students for the future. While I expect that a resolution of this matter can be reached that will enable Dr. McCaskill to continue as our Chief Diversity Officer, this will require that she and the University community work together to respond to the concerns that have been raised.

…Dr. McCaskill has been, and can continue to be, a valued member of this community and we are very much interested in working with everyone to come to a shared understanding in an environment that allows the community to rebound and move forward.

McCaskill changes reason for signing anti-gay petition

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

October 15th, 2012

Last week, when it first became public knowledge that Gallaudet’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Angela McCaskill, had signed the petition to invalidate the Maryland State Legislature’s vote for marriage equality, she explained her action this way:

When confronted by the faculty member, 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. As she was leaving, her husband pointed to the petition and she signed it without giving it further thought.

But now her story has changed. Now that she has legal counsel, she has a different reason why she signed the petition (Sun):

An attorney for Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer who has been placed on leave for signing a petition to put Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot says she only signed it so the issue could be decided by the democratic process.

J. Wyndal Gordan, an attorney for Angela McCaskill, said Monday that McCaskill is not “anti-gay,” and he notes that she has not expressed her personal view on the matter. He says she will do that in the voting booth.

So what are we supposed to believe? Is it possible that her pastor preached a sermon about how marriage should “be decided by the democratic process”? Well, just in case someone is harboring that absurdity, here are her pastor’s words on the subject:

As her pastor, I stand to say that we as a church family and community support Dr. McCaskill and stand with her during this time. The unfair treatment of Dr. McCaskill is a warning of what is to come if same-sex marriage becomes law in Maryland. It is a clarion call for Marylanders who value religious liberties and individual rights to vote against question 6. Again, it goes without saying that she deserves her job back.

So here is how my thinking has evolved:

I do not believe that Dr. McCaskill is capable or willing to be an effective advocate for the rights of LGBT students at Gallaudet. She seems to believe that they should have their rights subjected to a vote by the public. And let’s not pretend that she thinks that the outcome should be supportive.

Dr. McCaskill insists that she is not anti-gay. However, now that she has come under scrutiny, she has rallied anti-gay activists – such as her pastor – to portray her as a victim of “cowardice and bullying” and complaining about “threats and intimidation”. Nor do people who are not anti-gay allow their champions to equate justice and affirmative action to “support for the traditional definition of marriage”.

And I’m not sure that “not anti-gay” is enough when it comes to advocacy.

In 1994 when my friend Marky died, Carole (another straight black woman) screamed at the pastor and stormed out of his funeral simply because the pastor said that Marky “repented before he died”. But in 2012, McCaskill not only sat through an anti-gay sermon but found that it gave her the inspiration to sign the petition.

The benefit of the doubt which I extended to Dr. McCaskill has evaporated under her new image as the fearful target of horrible homosexual hoards. Whatever her previous actions on the behalf of LGBT students, this response as made her appear to be their enemy.

Dr. McCaskill will be speaking tomorrow to clarify her position. And perhaps she will redeem herself and her reputation. But “I’m a victim” is not going to be the message that brings relief to Gallaudet’s student body.

And whatever her position may be, the LGBT students at Gallaudet deserve an advocate. And if Dr. McCaskill views them as cowardly intimidating bullies whose rights are subject to the whims of the majority, then she may well not be the person to serve that role.

Gallaudet University Diversity Officer compromised her own ability to perform

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

October 11th, 2012

As fellow Box Turtle Jim Burroway discussed, the Chief Diversity Officer of Gallaudet University, Dr. Angela McCaskill, has been placed on paid suspension as a result of signing an anti-gay marriage petition. Jim believes that the suspension is unwarranted and that she should not be fired (a position shared by the campaigns both for and against Maryland’s Question 6).

I, however, think that suspension may have been the University’s wisest choice. It’s probably not the choice that plays best into our campaign to win equality in Maryland, but I think it may be the choice that best serves the interest of the university and its students.

I respect Dr. McCaskill’s right to her political views. I defend her right to religious beliefs. And I support her right to participate in the political process.

But Dr. McCaskill’s rights are not the only ones that should be considered. Her employer too has the right to expect an employee to perform their job, and the LGBT students who attend (a group that the media seems incapable to find) have the right to have an advocate who advocates for them.

While political position is generally not a prerequisite for holding most jobs – and, indeed, may not necessarily determine whether a person can perform well in any job – there are some jobs in which perception and public advocacy do impact a person’s ability. In situations in which interaction with others requires some level of acceptance and clear communication, a perceived position which threatens or confuses those with whom an employee interacts can make it difficult or impossible to complete their tasks.

For example, a Dean of Theology at a church-affiliated university may be an atheist and still be able to teach religion and administer coursework without difficulty. But if she were to publicly identify as such and advocate for the cessation of all religion it would so complicate matters with her staff and alienate students that it would impact her ability to perform and would probably severely compromise the school’s ability to continue operations.

Similarly a Chicano Studies professor may believe that immigration law should be fully implemented and that all those in the country who did not follow the legally established steps should be deported immediately, and still be able to teach history and theory associated with that study. But were he to advocate for such positions in op-eds, he would find his classroom empty or devolved to chaos, a situation that the school would be both entitled and wise to address.

This is not to say that an atheist could not introduce difficult questions or a Chicano studies professor could not discuss the nature of law or challenge presumptions. Indeed, they should do so even if they are the most ardent orthodox Christian or a strong advocate for open borders. But the challenge should be part of a shared experience and should always keep the needs of their students in mind. It should never be easily perceived as “you are out there in public hurting me”. Their employer deserves better.

And, unfortunately, that is what has happened in this case. McCaskill’s job is to deal with matters that impact students who are not part of the majority, including gay students. She is paid to do that job.

And this is a doubly difficult job in that all of Gallaudet’s students are hearing-challenged and start from an outsider’s perspective. Being unable to hear in our culture is a significant disadvantage in that so much of our culture is driven by audio cues, nuance, and subtle shading of sound. A written sentence (e.g “I love Mitt Romney”) can have the opposite meaning when the spoken sentence is produced with aurally detected snark or sarcasm or irony. And ASL is not a word-for-word direct translation, it is a distinct language; a reality that presents further challenges to feeling a full part of society.

Complicating matters is that often non-hearing people feel more welcomed within the gay community (or, at least, that is what I’ve been told). Gay events often have signers and there is, by my observation, more general awareness that not everyone is exactly the same. So something that is perceived as hostile to gay people is likely to be felt as “personal” for many more students than just those who are gay.

This isn’t to say that McCaskill cannot support gay students with skill and charm. But her job is not limited to ensuring scholastic equality, it also entails addressing the specific concerns and needs of minority students. And feeling equal is unquestionably a specific need of gay students.

So the question is not just whether she can support the LGBT students at Gallaudet. It may be that gay students cannot be supported by her. She may come bearing the message that deaf and hard-of-hearing LGBT students are welcomed and valued, but those students may be unable to receive that message, it being drowned out by the perception of “this woman thinks I’m inferior and unworthy and wants to take away my rights”.

Jim notes that he has not seen so much as a hint that her job performance has been in any way diminished before or since signing the petition. I disagree.

While the time before her advocacy against equality became known may not reflect any job diminishment, clearly the time after that act became known has impacted her job. If a single gay student is feeling unwanted and unwelcome and betrayed, then she has accomplished the opposite of what she is employed to do. And clearly some are.

This may be a situation that can be resolved. McCaskill may be able to clarify that she acted rashly and without thinking. She may be able to regain trust. And, as she has a good history and is seen as having been an ally, I suspect that this is something that can be and will be repaired.

But she is specifically tasked with the job of making minority students feel welcomed and included and that she is their advocate. But as currently some are instead feeling alienated and confused, she simply is not performing her job. Gay students are heart broken and angry.

And until such time as those students can again feel that McCaskill, as a representative of Gallaudet, does see them as valued and welcome and included and equal and that she will advocate for their specific needs, then she should not be the one to do perform those tasks. And until Gallaudet can appraise the situation and determine that trust can be regained, they are wise to suspend those specific duties.

I think it is in the best interest of Gallaudet – and gay students, and Dr. McCaskill – that she relinquish diversity duties until after the election and things cool off and that her path forward be determined at that time. If marriage equality passes she will have an excellent pathway to putting this behind her. If not, it may be more difficult to regain the trust of gay students who will feel that society has chosen yet another realm in which to reject, deny, and alienate them and may be less ready to trust someone who played a part in making that happen.

Maryland Marriage Equality Supporters Oppose Gallaudet Diversity Officer’s Suspension

Jim Burroway

October 11th, 2012

Josh Levin, the campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, has released a statement opposing Gallaudet University’s suspension of Angela McCaskill, the school’s diversity officer, for signing a petition calling for Maryland’s marriage equality law being put on the ballot:

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.”

Question 6 asks Maryland voters to approve the state legislature’s move earlier this year to provide marriage equality to the state’s same-sex couples. Derek McCoy, chair of the Maryland Marriage Alliance which opposes Question 6, also issued a statement expressing his “complete dismay” over placing McCaskill on paid administrative leave. The Washington Blade’s Lou Chibbaro notes that these statements “marked a rare turn of events that placed the two opposing leaders and their organizations in agreement over McCaskill’s situation.”

Gallaudet University Diversity Officer Suspended for Signing Marriage Referendum Petition (Updated)

A commentary

Jim Burroway

October 11th, 2012

Dr. Angela McCaskill, is a 23-year employee of Gallaudet University, serving as its chief diversity officer. She is also the first deaf African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. at the Washington, D.C. university for deaf and hard of hearing students. A blog, Planet DeafQueer, reports that an unnamed Gallaudet faculty member discovered that last July, McCaskill signed a petition to place a referendum on the Maryland ballot asking voters whether they wanted to overturn a law providing marriage equality that was passed by the state legislature:

A Gallaudet faculty member, who at this time wishes to remain anonymous, noticed Dr. McCaskill’s name, address and signature on the anti-gay marriage petition and inquired about it. When confronted by the faculty member, 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. As she was leaving, her husband pointed to the petition and she signed it without giving it further thought.

An official complaint was filed with the University last week by the mentioned faculty member and a meeting was held on Friday with Gallaudet University President, Dr. Alan Hurwitz.

Today, Dr. Hurwitz announced that he was placing McCaskilll on paid administrative leave effective immediately. Dr. Hurwitz took this action despite a Gallaudet spokesperson acknowledging that “We don’t have a policy against political participation.” According to Planet DeafQueer, McCaskill was an “ardent supporter” of Gallaudet’s LGBTQA Resource Center, leaving many LGBT students and faculty feeling “shock, disappointment, anger and betrayal” about her signing the petition.

Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed reports that D.C. law may add a complicating wrinkle for McCaskill’s suspension:

Under the D.C. Code, it is a criminal violation for “[a]ny person who … by threats or intimidation, interferes with, or attempts to interfere with, the right of any qualified registered elector to sign or not to sign any initiative, referendum, or recall petition.” The sentence for violating the provision can be up to a $10,000 fine and a year in prison.

…Because a Maryland law — and not a D.C. law — is at issue in the referendum, however, the D.C. Code’s criminal provision is not directly implicated. But, it could indirectly apply to McCaskill’s suspension through a civil lawsuit in which she seeks money or reinstatement.

Let’s remember what she did: she signed a petition. She didn’t write an op-ed or a letter to the editor demanding that gay couples not be allowed to marry. She didn’t stand on a street corner with a bullhorn, distribute anti-gay literature on campus or off, or even put a “No On 6″ bumper sticker on her car. We don’t even know if she supports Question 6 or not. She signed a petition asking that an issue be placed on the ballot for a vote. And yes, signing that petition is a public act. Her signature is on a public document which is why it is part of the public record. But it’s only as public as it takes for someone to go through the effort of searching through 110,000 other names and addresses to find hers.

And here’s the point: Gallaudet doesn’t have a policy barring its staff from signing petitions. Some organizations do; journalists, for example, are usually barred by their employers from activities which can tie their names to candidates or causes. But because Gallaudet doesn’t have such a policy, McCaskill wasn’t suspended for signing a petition. She was suspended for signing this petition. We would jump up and down in fury if someone were fired for signing a petition supporting a pro-gay initiative. I don’t see this case as being any different, especially since, so far, I haven’t seen so much as a hint that her job performance has been in any way diminished before or since signing the petition.

Gallaudet students and faculty have a right to ask McCaskill some very hard questions. McCaskill owes them, as their Diversity Officer, honest answers and probably an apology, depending on her explanations. What she did deserves scrutiny. But an undeniable and fundamental feature of anything resembling diversity, it seems to me, must include dialogue and conversation, especially when these situations arise in an academic setting and especially in McCaskill’s case where she has established a strong track record in supporting the campus’s LGBT population. Hurwitz’s rash action has clumsily blocked all of that.

There was a time and there were places where people routinely lost their jobs (and sometime far worse) for exercising their rights to participate in a democracy as full citizens. Forty-eight years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you’d think we would be past this by now, but obviously we’re not.

McCaskill is reportedly consulting a lawyer. I hope that Gallaudet and McCaskill can resolve this without resorting to the courts. But if they can’t, then I hope that the lawyer she found is an especially mean one.

Update: In an unusually rare convergence, campaign managers on both sides of Question 6 have issued statements opposing McCaskill’s suspension.