A sidewalk bordering the campus of Gallaudet University became a stage for protest Thursday as local pastors called for the reinstatement of a university officer who was suspended after she signed a petition to put Maryland’s same-sex marriage law to a referendum.
Using a megaphone to chant, “You don’t need permission to sign a petition,” the Rev. Delman Coates led about three dozen protesters on behalf of Chief Diversity Officer Angela McCaskill, even though he is a strong proponent of the marriage equality law.
“Dr. McCaskill deserves the same kind of protection as other faculty and students without being subjected to an ideological litmus test,” Coates said in a statement as he stood outside the gates of the university in Northeast Washington. He said he will continue to lead protests weekly until McCaskill is reinstated.
After news of McCaskill’s suspension surfaced, Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz explained that some at the university thought her action was “inappropriate for an individual serving as chief diversity officer.”
On Wednesday, Hurwitz released a statement saying the university understands the protesters’ perspective but “at the same time we need to move forward at a rate appropriate for our entire campus community.”
Hurwitz said the administration has been conducting meetings with members of gay and other student organizations, faculty and staff, and developing strategies “for moving the community forward.”
In a statement the previous week, Hurwitz said the university expected to resolve the issue and eventually reinstate McCaskill, who has been on paid administrative leave after the Washington Blade posted the names of those who signed the petition online this summer.
Raouf M. Abullah, co-counsel for McCaskill, said in an interview outside Gallaudet that he is optimistic that his client will be able to return to work. “All we are asking is for the university to live up to the values that it encourages in its students,” he said.
As the protest took place, Gallaudet students watched and signed their reactions.
Sophomore Matt Gatlin, 24, supports McCaskill being reinstated. “I think that everybody is entitled to their opinion,” he signed.
Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, and the Rev. Donte L. Hickman, pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, have been leading proponents of the Maryland law, which would give additional protections to same-sex couples.
But Johanna Martin,24, president of the Rainbow Society, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group on campus, said she feels a sense of betrayal by McCaskill’s action.
“My feelings are of confusion,” she said. “Will she truly support the LGBT community? I would like to know what she was doing.”