Posts Tagged As: Maryland

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.

Jay Z for marriage

Timothy Kincaid

October 5th, 2012

This matters. This matters very much. (TheFour)

Because biblical marriage is jumping a broom or something

Timothy Kincaid

October 1st, 2012

From time to time you come across a group so misinformed that you wonder if it’s a spoof. Today I ran across Jump the Broom for Marriage, and anti-gay group. This is their “about” description:

Jumping the Broom: The First African American Civil Right

Conceivably, the first civil right African-Americans obtained in this country was their right to marry. After being brutally forced to a country without their consent to serve as slaves, they were strategically separated from their homeland, homes, families and family traditions. Viewed as property, they possessed no legal rights. Their names were even taken from them. Yet, these resilient people had something that no man or demon in hell could take away, their faith! A simple act of jumping the broom symbolizes the first civil right. Today, the gay community is saying Marriage Equality is a Civil Right.

Jumping the broom, during the slavery of Africans in America, was an act with no legal consequence. Being denied even the basic human dignity of family, having those whom considered themselves superior restrict any civil protection, this was a sign to the couple and those around them that they were committing to each other – to the extent they were allowed. There is no parallel in today’s society, but some echoes can be heard in same-sex commitment ceremonies in those parts of the country in which gay couples are seen as inferior and granted no civil protections.

And as for the faith of African-Americans, only someone lacking the most basic knowledge in history would be unaware that the faith that West Africans brought with them across the ocean was largely replaced by the faith of their oppressors.

Jump the Broom for Marriage are a confused mess. Their motto is “Marriage: True to Our God, True to Our Native Land” and they are shooting for the goal of “preserving the biblical values and covenant rights of marriage between one man and one woman in all communities throughout Maryland through education, mobilization, advocacy and public policy that promote our spiritual values and heritage.”

But, and I may be cynical, I suspect that very little time went into planning the strategy page and more attention was paid to the “donate here” page. After all, when I read that I could sponsor lunch on election day for ten people for the tiny price of $465 or ten lawn signs for $30 each, I had a suspicion that just maybe this particular group was less dedicated to the mission than they were to the money.

Dear narcissistic fromunda stain…

Timothy Kincaid

September 7th, 2012

When Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo came out in support of equality, it got Emmett Burns a little perturbed. So much so that he wrote to Ayambadejo’s employer to insist that he “inhibit such expressions”. This didn’t sit well with fellow equality supporter, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.

Kluwe responded. It’s required reading. Seriously, you MUST read this:

Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr.,

I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words):

1. As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should “inhibit such expressions from your employees,” more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit…

Now go to Deadspin and read the rest.

Legislator Writes to Boss of Equality Advocate: Shut Him Up!

Rob Tisinai

September 7th, 2012

In an astonishing assault on freedom of speech, Democratic state legislator Emmett Burns wrote to a man’s employer and asked him to shut the man up and shut the man down for advocating marriage equality.

Really. Burns wrote to Steve Bisciotti, owner of the Baltimore Ravens football team:

I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player. Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other. Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement.I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.

I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.

Please give me your immediate response.

The second paragraph stuns me. Somehow, though, the last sentence’s commanding tone makes the whole thing even more chilling.  Just to recap:

This is a state legislator…writing on official Maryland House of Delegates a man’s boss…asking him to shut down his employee’s free speech.

It would be bad enough if Burns had applied pressure directly to Ayanbadejo. But going through his boss? Can you imagine if state legislators starting calling your employer — or worse, writing them on official letterhead — demanding that you stop exercising your First Amendment rights? That’s abuse on top of abuse.

This is at least as bad as when a Chicago alderman tried to block a Chik-fil-a store because he didn’t like the owner’s opposition to same-sex marriage. (I was away at the time, without Internet access, so let me state for the record: the alderman was an ass). To me, though, this seems worse, because contra Romney and the current Supreme Court, a corporation is not a person, and the power gap between an city alderman and multibillion-dollar corporation is not as frightening as the one between a state legislator and a private citizen.

Should Burns should resign over this? At the very least, he should sit barefoot on Ayanbadejo’s doorstep for three days, wearing a hairshirt, forgoing food and shelter, until Ayanbadejo accepts his apology. Burns is a public servant — we use that language for a reason — and his first duty to protect our rights.  He’s abused his power, demonstrated his incompetence, and violated his oath of office.

Also, like so many of our opponents, he spouts nonsense even though Google is just a keyboard away. “I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.” Really? Here are a few players I’d like him to meet.

Emmett Burns’ mix of ignorance and arrogance is all too common among our opponents. No surprise, though: each one breeds the other in a falling spiral of self-righteous egomania. I suppose I can take comfort in one thing. The National Organization for Marriage, a group that trumpets its principled support for liberty and opposition to government overreach, will be quick and fierce in its denunciation of this legislator.


“The face of the opposition” to Maryland marriage equality gets blotto, seriously injures six

Timothy Kincaid

August 24th, 2012

Back in February 2011 when the Maryland House was voting on marriage equality, Rep. Don Dwyer had a title for himself: (Baltimore Sun)

Del. Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican who has called himself “the face of the opposition” began his testimony with a prayer.

It’s probably an accurate title, as Dwyer is so supportive of the traditional supremacy of heterosexuality that he tried (and failed) to impeach state Attorney General Douglas Gansler for his support of same-sex marriage. Now the face of the opposition to equality is in the news for another reason: (WaPo)

Maryland Del. Donald H. Dwy­er Jr. said Thursday that he was under the influence of alcohol when the boat he was piloting Wednesday struck a vessel full of children, injuring four, one seriously.

The youngest, a 5-year-old girl, was carried from the site by a Maryland State Police medevac helicopter. She remained hospitalized Thursday night at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. Authorities declined to speak about her condition but said that her injuries were not considered life-threatening.

I wish a speedy recovery to all the injured and hope that Del. Dwyer takes the opportunity to spend a good long time in introspection and reflection on the content of his character.

Maryland Catholic Conference: spending taxpayer money is a religious liberty

Timothy Kincaid

August 24th, 2012

The language of Maryland’s ballot question is quite clear about how the marriage equality law will impact religious institutions:

“… protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.”

But the Maryland Catholic Conference disagrees: (Catholic Review)

However, the MCC says the law only purports to protect religious freedoms.

“According to the actual legislation, religious organizations that accept any sort of state or federal funds are excluded from religious liberty protections. They are not exempt, and there are no protections for individuals,” the MCC said.

“Marylanders should not be fooled into thinking we can redefine marriage and still protect religious liberty,” it added.

Because “religious liberty” includes the liberty to tax non-Catholics and use the funds to push Catholic dogma. Yeah, I don’t think so.

For me the question isn’t whether religious organizations that accept any sort of state or federal funds should be excluded from religious liberty protections, but why are there religious organizations that are receiving state or federal funds at all? “Charity” is not the same thing as spending tax dollars.

Maryland marriage language

Timothy Kincaid

August 23rd, 2012

The language that will be on the Maryland ballot this November will be:

Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.

The only thing I could think of to add would be: “and does not mean that your little daughter will learn that she can marry a princess”. Otherwise it pretty much leaves anti-gays with little to argue.

Maryland Senate Approves Marriage Bill

Jim Burroway

February 23rd, 2012

It’s on the governor for his signature.

The Maryland Senate passed HB 438, a bill legalizing marriage equality in the Free State, by a 25-22 margin after its third reading Thursday afternoon, sending the measure to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) for his signature into law.

Marriage opponents made six attempts to amend the bill, which would have forced it to be sent back to the House for another vote. The House last Friday very narrowly passed the bill, and opponents hoped that by sending it back, they could have a second shot at defeating it there. The bill finally passed after several filibuster attempts by Republican lawmakers.

The bill won’t go into effect until January, 2013, allowing opponents enough time to collect 55,736 signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot overturning the law. Polls show that such a ballot measure would be very close.

Maryland Senate Postpones Marriage Vote Until Thursday

Jim Burroway

February 22nd, 2012

Marriage equality supporters say the votes are there, but Senate rules allow opponents to delay a vote by a day. Debate should begin tomorrow morning, with a final vote either tomorrow night or Friday morning.

Maryland Senate Advances Marriage Equality for Floor Vote

Jim Burroway

February 21st, 2012

Maryland’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to send a bill legalizing same-sex marriages to the full Senate, setting up a vote which may take place as early as tomorrow. The same bill narrowly passed the Maryland House of Delegates last Friday. The bill’s supporters believe that it will have an easier time getting passed in the Senate.

Assuming the Senate passes the bill and it goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s promised signature, it is widely expected that opponents will succeed in collecting enough signatures for the ballot referendum on the measure.

Maryland House Passes Marriage Equality

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2012

The Maryland House of Delegates this afternoon passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act by a vote of 71-67. The bill now goes to the Senate. I don’t have a breakdown of the vote, but will try to get it as soon as I can.

Update: Washington Blade’s Phil Reese adds:

Del. Tiffany Alston’s (D-Prince George’s) vote in favor of the bill proved critical to its passage. Del. Sam Arora (D-Mont. Co.), a former supporter of the bill, voted against it.

Alston’s opposition last year played a key role in sinking a similar bill, as was Sam Arora’s, whose turncoat opposition outraged many LGBT constituents in Montgomery County who worked for his election on his promise to support marriage equality. He even co-sponsored the bill when it was introduced, only to turn his back on his constituents and abruptly announce his opposition to his own bill.

Update: [tk] The official vote count has been amended to be 72-67. Also a late amendment set the effective date back from October to January 2013, at the request of Delegate Wade Kach, (R-Baltimore County). I assume that Kach did not want the change to go into effect immediately before the voters went to the polls.

Report: Former VP Dick Cheney Lobbying for Same-Sex Marriage

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2012

John Aravosis found this burried in a Baltimore Sun article:

He (Republican Del. Wade Kach) also became the target of a last-minute lobby effort, and said his voice mail was full of messages from important people, including ( former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken) Mehlman, (New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg and an offer to talk with former Vice President Dick Cheney, whom Kach regards as a “great man.” All three are recognized for their support of gay rights issues. (Emphasis mine.)

Yesterday, Del. Kach announced that he will cast his vote in support of a bill to provide marriage equality in Maryland. The bill is now before the Maryland House of Delegates. A vote may come as early as today.

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