WASHINGTON — Gallaudet University's embattled chief diversity officer said she wasn't taking an anti-gay stance when she signed a petition advocating for Maryland's same-sex marriage law to be put to a vote. Instead, Angela McCaskill says she was joining 200,000 others in standing up for the rights of voters to make decisions at the ballot box.
"I thought it was important that as a citizen of the state of Maryland I could exercise my right to participate in the political process. I am pro-democracy," McCaskill explained at a news conference Tuesday in Annapolis, Md., speaking out for the first time since the university's president placed her on administrative leave last week after it became public that she had signed the petition.
McCaskill's attorney said repeatedly that McCaskill had never publicly taken a stance on gay marriage, that she is not anti-gay and that she has supported gay students at Gallaudet.
That explanation complicates Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz's explanation for why he put McCaskill on leave: that some feel it is "inappropriate" for a chief diversity officer to participate in such an initiative, which aims to challenge Maryland's same-sex marriage law through a public referendum. The president has since been criticized by proponents and opponents of gay marriage in Maryland, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat .
Hurwitz clarified his actions in a statement released Tuesday morning. He wrote that McCaskill is welcome to return to her job but doing so will require "that she and the University community work together to respond to the concerns that have been raised."
McCaskill's attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said that McCaskill wants her job back but that the terms of her reinstatement will have to be negotiated. McCaskill wants to be compensated for the damage to her reputation and the emotional distress the "scandal" has caused, Gordon said. McCaskill has not taken legal action.
McCaskill, 54, was the first deaf African American woman to earn a doctorate at Gallaudet, a university for the deaf and hard of hearing in the District of Columbia. She has worked at Gallaudet for more than 24 years and was named top diversity official last year. McCaskill said she rearranged her budget to find money to open a resource center on campus for sexual minorities, hired an openly transgender employee and hosted many events centered around discussing lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender issues.
This summer, McCaskill and her husband attended Reid Temple AME church and heard a sermon about "different types of marriage," then signed the petition there, Gordon said. That petition was obtained and made public by the Washington Blade.
A faculty member saw McCaskill's name on the petition and confronted her in early October, Gordon said. McCaskill confirmed that she had signed the petition, alerted the Gallaudet president that it could become an issue and offered to organize a panel discussion to address the topic, Gordon said. The next day, the faculty member and her partner filed a formal complaint with the president, he said.
Gordon said that McCaskill was asked to issue an apology and that she declined to do so. Days later, McCaskill was notified by e-mail that she would be placed on paid leave and that an interim chief diversity officer would take over, Gordon said. The action was announced publicly Oct. 10.
"I was shocked, hurt, insulted. I was humiliated," McCaskill said at the news conference, with the assistance of an interpreter. "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."
Gallaudet officials did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.