Gallaudet gay marriage protests: Dueling groups rally for Gallaudet's McCaskill

    Angela McCaskill

    Two groups of protesters - with opposing views on gay marriage - rallied outside Gallaudet University today in support of its diversity chief.

    Angela McCaskill was placed on administrative leave two weeks ago after signing a petition that called for putting the issue on Maryland's November ballot. It's now question number 6 on the ballot.

    University officials sent a letter (on page 2) to the Gallaudet community Thursday encouraging students, staff and faculty to be respectful of opposing viewpoints. There is fear of the university losing its accreditation.

    McCaskill's attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon and the university say negotiations are ongoing.

    Gordon says their conversations are moving in the right direction and it's "extremely likely" she'll get her job back.

    But first, he says they need to resolve some issues, like McCaskill's safety and the hateful messages she's been getting.

    Outside Gallaudet University's front gate, a few dozen protesters -- organized by supporters of same-sex marriage -- called for the immediate reinstatement of McCaskill.

    "We cannot trade one form of discrimination for another form of discrimination," says Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., who has been prominent in organizing African-American pastors in support of marriage equality. "And in a free pluralistic society, people have the right to their personal beliefs and thoughts and opinions, even if it makes us uncomfortable."

    Just down the street, more protesters -- who oppose same sex marriage -- held their own rally.

    "She didn't do nothing but want the voters to vote," says Janice Hall, a same-sex marriage opponent. "You know, it's up to the voters to make that decision whether they want it or don't."

    Throughout the protests, many students and staff members stood nearby and observed.

    McCaskill did not attend.

    But her attorney told reporters that before McCaskill can return, the university must ensure her safety and possibly provide financial compensation for what he calls the "irreparable harm" she's suffered.

    "Well, I think she's entitled to some restoration of her reputation and how that will be restored, we'll have to work out the details," Gordon says.

    McCaskill shared with ABC7 some of the emails she's received, which she says attacked her and called her names. She says some of them were racially charged.

    "You signing that is like me signing a petition to allow white men to own slaves again and to call those slaves (deleted expletive)," one of the emails reads.

    A Gallaudet spokesperson says McCaskill's employment status remains unchanged..

    But in a letter to the campus community, President Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz says that the university administration has been conducting productive meetings with LGBT students and students of color as well as faculty and staff leadership.

    Gallaudet officials sent the following to the university community Thursday:

    Our accrediting body, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), has 14 standards that all accredited institutions are expected to follow. MSCHE Standard 6 on Integrity states that “academic freedom should be extended to all members of the institution's community.” Institutions are expected to support “a climate that fosters respect among students, faculty, staff and administration for a range of backgrounds, ideas and perspectives.” In its 2007 exit report, MSCHE expressly encouraged “the free, open, and unfettered exchange of ideas,” and explicitly stressed that “closing an institution through protest, preventing or intimidating students from attending class, or precluding the open exchange of ideas brings the institution out of compliance with Middle States’ accreditation standards.” MSCHE stated that “any further such actions will have dire consequences in terms of accreditation.”

    What would the loss of our accreditation mean? Simply stated, it could threaten our ability to continue as an institution. We faced such a threat in the aftermath of the 2006 protests. It was only through the work of many people that our accreditation was reaffirmed in 2008. We face an accreditation review next spring. Needless to say, a divisive response to the current issues and concerns surrounding the Chief Diversity Officer could jeopardize our accreditation.

    MSCHE’s words are strong, and important as well. With this in mind, we encourage students, faculty, staff, and administration to continue to engage in civil and respectful discussion of the issues and concerns that have surfaced in the last two weeks. We are justifiably proud of how most community members have acted during this time. While many have strong views, they have expressed them appropriately and responded with civility to other views.

    Two and one-half years ago, our community saw a wave of external dissent over a theatre production. At that time, Provost Weiner wrote, “our ability to discuss even the most controversial issues, the ones that inflame the most passion, is what makes us a university. [This production] is an opportunity for reasoned, respectful dialogue, in the true spirit of an academic community.” This still holds true today, and in the tomorrows to come.


    We – the leaders of the Division of Academic Affairs, the faculty, and the undergraduate and graduate student organizations – thank you again for coming together. We join President Hurwitz in writing that we “have complete confidence that the community will emerge stronger because of this situation.”

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