A university employee who was placed on administration leave said that she has been humiliated and intimidated for her belief that Maryland voters should determine whether to implement a “gay marriage” law in the state.
“I am 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,” Dr. Angela McCaskill said at an Oct. 16 press conference in Annapolis, Md.
“I am pro-democracy,” she stated, explaining that she believes it is important “that we as the citizens of Maryland have an opportunity to vote.”
McCaskill, a deaf African American, spoke in sign language with the help of an interpreter to explain how she had been removed from her position as Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet University, an institution that serves the deaf and hard of hearing.
In March, a law to redefine marriage in the state of Maryland passed, but it was delayed from taking effect until January 2013, allowing time for its opponents to put it before voters in a November referendum.
McCaskill was one of 200,000 Maryland residents who signed a petition to put the measure before the people. Now, she believes that she is facing intimidation and punishment from her employer for exercising her rights.
At the press conference, McCaskill said that she had been approached by Martina Bienvenu, a Gallaudet University faculty member in the American Sign Language and Deaf Studies department.
Bienvenu asked her if she had signed the petition, and she replied that she had.
“In this very moment, she determined that this signature meant I was anti-gay,” McCaskill said, explaining that Bienvenu and her partner wrote a letter to the president of the university asking that she be punished.
On Oct. 10, university president T. Alan Hurwitz announced that McCaskill was being placed on paid administrative leave. He said that he would announce an interim Chief Diversity Officer and would “determine the appropriate next steps.”
Upon hearing the news, McCaskill said she “couldn’t believe it.”
“I was shocked, hurt, insulted. I was humiliated,” she explained. “Not only for myself, but for the students of Gallaudet University. They deserve better.”
“I offered to have a campus-wide dialogue on this very sensitive issue,” McCaskill said.
“I believe in civil discourse. I thought it was important that as a citizen of the state of Maryland, that I could exercise my right to participate in the political process.
“I thought that this would have been an incredible opportunity to teach our campus,” she explained. “Unfortunately, that opportunity was lost.”
She said that the university has “allowed misinformation to be circulated throughout the campus community,” adding that her reputation and 24 years of service to the university have been tarnished.
The decision to place McCaskill on leave was harshly criticized by groups including the Family Research Council and the Maryland Marriage Alliance as an intolerant attempt to intimidate someone for participating in the democratic process.
Critics of the move also noted that signing the petition was not necessarily voicing opposition to “gay marriage,” but rather support for the matter to be decided by a vote of the people.
A petition to reinstate McCaskill has drawn more than 23,000 participants.
Hurwitz has released two additional statements defending his decision to place McCaskill on leave as “prudent,” and expressing a desire to “work with” her in order “to enable her to return to the community.”
He said that the administration is conducting “very productive meetings” with faculty and staff leadership, as well as student organizations representing gay students and students of color.
McCaskill asked for prayers and called on the university to allow her to resume her position.
“Many people know me and know that I have nothing but love for people,” she said. “People ask me why I’m such a cheerful person, and I often tell them, ‘Because there is God in me.’”
“I have pushed for equality, social justice for not just one group of people, but for all people,” she added.