WASHINGTON -- Gallaudet University's chief diversity officer has been placed on paid administrative leave for signing a petition opposing gay marriage.
The petition was part of an effort to overturn a Maryland law that would allow same-sex couples to marry -- because enough people signed the petition, the marriage equality law will be up for a referendum vote on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz said in a statement posted to Facebook that he recently discovered that Dr. Angela McCaskill had "participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently."
Hurwitz went on to say that he "will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university. In the meantime an interim Chief Diversity Officer will be announced in the near future."
The blog Planet DeafQueer reported Tuesday on how news of the petition came to Hurwitz's attention:
Dr. McCaskill, whose job at Gallaudet is to promote diversity and inclusion at Gallaudet, signed an anti-gay marriage petition dated July 12, 2012, in favor of overturning the Civil Marriage Protection Act and denying lesbian and gay people the basic right to marry.
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.
Planet DeafQueer also recorded student reactions to the news:
"She's been a great ally to the LGBT community and supported many of the LGBTQA Resource Center's programs," said one student, who asked to remain anonymous. "I'm heart broken about this."
LGBT students, faculty and staff we spoke to said they felt shock, disappointment, anger and betrayal upon learning of the signed petition. Some are calling for Dr. McCaskill’s resignation. Others are waiting for an official response from Dr. McCaskill and wondering if it will be possible for her to regain their trust.
“In her role as Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. McCaskill has made many advances for Deaf people of color, LGBT and other minorities at Gallaudet,” said a staff member who wishes to remain anonymous. "This situation is very disheartening for all of us."
The National Review's Maggie Gallagher had a different take:
Nobody that I know of is losing his job for being for gay marriage. Is this more evidence of what gay marriage means -- not diversity but a new public moral norm?
McCaskill is Gallaudet's first chief diversity officer -- and is also the first black deaf woman to earn her PhD from the university, which was founded to serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students. McCaskill's two sisters -- one of whom is the second black deaf woman to earn her PhD from Gallaudet -- also work at the college.
A person who identified himself as McCaskill's husband told BuzzFeed that "McCaskill would be consulting with a lawyer but had no comment at this time about being placed on leave."
UPDATE: Will Sommer in the Washington City Paper reports that a pro-gay marriage group has called on Gallaudet to reinstate McCaskill:
"We strongly disagree with the decision to put the chief diversity officer on leave and hope she is reinstated immediately," says Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign manager Josh Levin in a press release.
In the announcement, Levin says that people are entitled to their own free speech about Question 6, the ballot question that could overturn the law.
Law professor and free speech specialist Eugene Volokh has also weighed in on his blog:
Some commenters are making the argument that as a “diversity” officer, McCaskill needs to meet an ideological litmus test. I think there are some circumstances where people’s expressed views can interfere with their jobs, but it’s not at all clear to me that this is one of them, especially given that (a) all McCaskill did was sign a ballot initiative petition; (b) there is no inherent connection between signing the petition and not providing support for gay students at Gaulludet–it would be different if she made anti-gay public remarks; and (c) “diversity” at Gaulludet could certainly be deemed to include support for those with minority religious/political sentiments at what I take it is a very left-wing campus. Is Gaulludet not sending a message that students and faculty with traditional religious views are not welcome, or at least are only welcome if they keep their positions well to themselves?
Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies who has been active in his efforts to preserve Maryland's same sex marriage law, also writes about why it "looks like a bad move" for McCaskill to have been placed on leave:
There is no indication in the article that McCaskill’s opinions about same-sex marriage influenced her handling of her duties at the university. If Hurwitz is assuming that the holding of particular views on politics outside the classroom is inconsistent with the duties of a diversity officer or a university official, then he is assuming something that, at a minimum, deserves to be aired fully in a public controversy. (While not a federal institution as such, Gallaudet is intertwined with the federal government on many levels and would find it hard to claim that as a strictly private institution it can set whatever political tests it wants to.) If the problem is that critics who became aware of McCaskill’s signature on the petition and chose to publicize it have thereby made it harder for her to do a good job, then the university is opening itself to the equivalent of a heckler’s veto. There is no indication that McCaskill chose some path of high-profile activism that would inevitably reach the notice of the students she works with.
We can now expect a loud outcry from gay-marriage opponents who have been scouring the horizon for exactly this kind of fact pattern — an ordinary person subjected to indefensible retaliation for taking their side — and may at last have found it.
Flickr photo by Mr. T in DC, used under a Creative Commons license.