Free to Believe

Angela McCaskill

Gallaudet University: Washington, D.C.

On October 10, 2012, Gallaudet University President Alan Hurwitz announced the suspension of a senior employee for supporting the right of the people to support traditional marriage. Dr. Angela McCaskill was a 23-year veteran who earned the school’s first Ph.D. as a deaf African-American woman. “I want to inform the community that I have placed Dr. Angela McCaskill on paid administrative leave effective immediately,” Hurwitz said in a statement.  “It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer.”  The initiative referenced was Maryland’s Question 6, the state referendum on marriage definition.  Like 200,000 other residents, Dr. McCaskill signed the petition to put the issue in front of the voters.  In Maryland, the names and addresses of ballot supporters were a matter of public record (which led to a door-to-door campaign of intimidation by those opposed to the ballot measure.)  Administrators learned of McCaskill’s involvement when a faculty member was combing the list of petition signers and flagged her name. The petition did not commit signers to a particular viewpoint on marriage; it simply supported the right of the people to vote. 

Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who had supported same-sex unions and other gay rights activists began calling for the school to reinstate McCaskill. Marylanders for Marriage Equality’s Josh Levin agreed that, “[e]veryone is entitled to free speech and to their own opinion about Question 6…” UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh told reporters that it might be President Hurwitz—rather than McCaskill—whose job was in jeopardy.  “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.’” 

According to her pastor, Rev. Dr. Lee Washington, Dr. McCaskill and her family became the targets of threats and intimidation ever since the story broke.  “As her church family, we stand firmly by her side and welcome all persons of good faith regardless of their ideological views to denounce these actions of cowardice and bullying.”  The Washington Post even warned that Gallaudet’s overreaction could seriously “undermine” the effort to redefine marriage.  “The surest way to repel voters—and to vitiate the marriage movement’s broader goals and values—would be to say, or even seem to say, ‘Agree with us or else.’” 

On October 16, McCaskill held a press conference with her attorney to talk about the intimidation and harassment she’d endured.  After thanking a few people for their support she said through a sign language interpreter that, “Signing that petition is a right that I have as a citizen of the state of Maryland.  It simply means that I want to see this very sensitive issue put on the ballot as a referendum in the state of Maryland.”  She said she felt bullied for participating in the democratic process.  “It’s been very hurtful,” she said, “because I have nothing but love and support for everyone.  And to have this tarnishing my name, my reputation, my character, it hurts.” 

Earlier in the day, Gallaudet's President Hurwitz released his first statement since suspending McCaskill from campus.  In it, he seemed to require further concessions from his Chief Diversity Officer.  Saying the University “would like to work with her,” Hurwitz insisted that it would require a mutual understanding first.  Putting the onus on McCaskill to respond to the school’s concerns, he noted, “[e]ach of us would benefit from remembering that everyone should be treated with civility and respect.”

After three months, Gallaudet University reinstated McCaskill.  On January 7, 2013, President Hurwitz released a statement to students and faculty, saying he was “appreciative” of the campus’s “willingness to consider the differing views others may hold.”

After the controversy, her attorney said he was still working with the university to address the “unresolved legal and financial matters” created by the university’s actions.  “Dr. McCaskill is entitled to some restoration of her reputation.  And I think the university has not come to full grips with that [and the] harm [that] has been done to her…”  Asked by a reporter if she had a message for those who don’t welcome her return, she said simply, “I’ll pray for them.”  

Photo credit: Courtesy of "Trip Down Memory Lane" at blogspot.com