A quick summery of the “Gallaudet vs McCaskill” story:
Angela McCaskill, the Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet University (a university for Deaf students), signed a petition asking for Maryland’s marriage equality law to be put to a repeal vote. Months later, a fellow faculty member noticed McCaskill’s name on a list of petition signers. According to Planet DeafQueer:
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.
Shortly after this, Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz put McCaskill on a paid leave of absence. Virtually everyone, including leading advocates for marriage equality, disagreed with this decision. (Although a few Deaf commentators I’ve read seem to agree with the suspension.)
Initially, McCaskill explained that she signed the petition after hearing a sermon at Church against gay marriage. She later altered her story, saying that she is neutral on the SSM question, and only signed the petition so that voters could decide. As publicity mounted, President Hurwitz issued a statement of surrender, “to indicate forcefully” that he wants McCaskill to “return to the community from her leave of absence.”
McCaskill, however, doesn’t seem interested in accepting a surrender, at least not unless she is given money. In a press conference hours after Hurwitz’s statement, McCaskill made it clear that she considers herself the victim of persecution, outed Martina Bienvenu as the faculty member who noticed that McCaskill had signed the petition, and also made it clear that Bienvenu is a lesbian. (Bienvenu’s sexual orientation is no secret, but McCaskill going out of her way to mention McCaskill’s female partner during a press conference seems gratuitous). McCaskill’s attorney announced that McCaskill wants “compensation” from the university for her pain and suffering.
Okay, that wasn’t as quick as I’d hoped. Some thoughts:
1) My initial reaction to this story was that I might agree with the suspension. In general, I’m strongly against any employee being penalized for their speech, but I do make an exception for cases in which something an employee says will reduce their ability to perform their job duties effectively. I’m not sure what a “Chief Diversity Officer” does, but it certainly sounds like a job that may require the trust and confidence of Gallaudet’s LGBT community, and she certainly seems to have lost that (judging from comments I’ve seen left by Gallaudet students).
Having given it more thought, I think I was wrong. This isn’t really about same-sex marriage; it’s about worker’s rights.
Transferring McCaskill to another position may eventually be the right thing to do, if over the coming months her notoriety for signing an anti-queer petition impairs her ability to do her job. But McCaskill should have the chance to try. Penalizing an employee for not doing her job well is, generally speaking, reasonable; doing so pre-emptively, as Gallaudet did in this case, is wrong.
Frankly, I don’t believe that McCaskill supports lgbt rights, and it’s unfair that Gallaudet’s lgbt students may be stuck with an opponent where they should have an advocate. But not every injustice can or should be remedied by resorting to a law or an administrative action. In this particular case, worker’s rights — the need of workers to be able to participate in political advocacy without fear of losing their jobs — is the most central issue. And – as we’ll see below — the right to not be penalized by employers is an especially crucial right for lgbt people.
2) Gay rights opponents are jubilant about this case, claiming that this shows that pro-SSM folks are against free speech (ignoring the many pro-SSM folks who have objected to McCaskill’s suspension). In comments at Family Scholars Blog, Maggie Gallagher listed seven other examples of people’s jobs being endangered over their opposition to gay marriage – although several of her examples were dubious, as JHW pointed out.
I responded to Maggie in that thread, and a couple of people emailed me asking me to repeat what I wrote as a post. So here it is again:
Maggie, why not ask instead: how many jobs are you not allowed to hold if you’re glbt, gay and married, or just publicly or privately support gay people?
Is it okay for a university to fire a librarian because he refused to sign a statement opposing homosexuality? (Maggie, is there any university which has circulated a statement supporting SSM to all employees, who have had to sign it to remain employed?)
Or how about the time the Kentucky Farm Bureau fired a man because he publicly supported SSM?
* GOP Rep. Lankford Explains Why It Should Be Legal To Fire Someone For Being Gay: ‘It’s A Choice Issue’
* Mom Whose Gay Son Came Out Claims Christian School Fired Her
* Teacher fired for views on same-sex marriage. These “views” came up only in a private survey given by the school to the teachers, not because she said anything in public.
* Eagle Scout Fired for Being Gay
* Water Polo Coach Claims He Was Fired for Being Gay (The school claims they fired him because of a Halloween photo on Facebook in which he was standing next to drag queens, as if that’s somehow better.)
* Parents Say AZ Principal Fired For Being Gay
* Gay Teacher Fired from St. Louis Catholic School on His Wedding Day
* NC Catholic Church Fires Gay Music Director For Marrying His Partner
What other jobs have people been fired from for being lgbt, or for being suspected of being lgbt? Correctional officer, camera operator, lawyer – that lawyer, by the way, may not even be gay, but he was accused of being gay on a blog, and apparently that’s enough to get fired – auditor, college soccer coach, college Dean, legislative editor at a state assembly, Alzheimer’s caregiver, cop, lawyer (again), lab assistant, and (of course) teacher.
Believe me, I could go on and on. And on and on.
And this situation, bad as it is, represents a huge improvement from just 20 years ago. At least now there’s a large mass of lgbt people who don’t need to remain closeted just to keep a job. Of course, the change in social mores that now allows lgbt people to be somewhat more secure than they used to be was resisted passionately by the religious right.
I think there should be a lot less of this sort of thing going on. Except in a few particular positions where it genuinely interferes with their ability to perform their job, no one should ever lose a job for being anti-SSM, pro-SSM, anti-gay, pro-lgbt, straight, or lgbt. Or, for that matter, for being liberal or conservative. The core problem, I think, is that people in the US have a strong tendency to demonize those they politically disagree with.
But Maggie, if you really think that this is some sort of unique “gay bullies” problem, rather than something engaged in by many people, including people on your side of the debate, then you need to take that plank out of your own eye.
The truth is, although this problem exists on both sides of the debate, the censorship is much, much, much greater coming from the anti-gay side. Look at some of the examples above. It’s unimaginable that any school would demand that all employees sign a statement of support for same-sex-marriage or be fired; but when the opposite happens, hardly anyone bothered to report it. No Democratic politician, no matter how pro-gay, is standing up at a press conference and defending the right of employers to fire anti-SSM employees (nor would any).
And to the best of my knowledge, no anti-SSM leader has ever stood up to defend the free speech rights of any of the people I listed. In contrast, pro-SSM organizations have repeatedly stood up for the free speech rights of people like McCaskill and groups like Chick-Fil-A.
I don’t deny that there are flaws on both sides. But this is not a “both sides are equally bad” situation. Overwhelmingly, the anti-SSM side is more opposed to free speech, and less likely to stand up for free speech of opponents.
3) Interestingly, if the petition McCaskill had signed had been a Washington, D.C. petition (DC is where Gallaudet is located), then Gallaudet’s action would have been illegal. “The only reason Gallaudet isn’t facing criminal charges is because marriage petition has to do with a Maryland law, not a DC one.”
DC isn’t alone – I’m told that about half of the states have laws protecting the rights of workers to politically dissent without reprisal from their bosses. I’d like to see that protection extended to the other half of the states.
4) An unfortunate thing about the debate over Gallaudet and McCaskill is that the most important voices — those of Deaf students at Gallaudet and the Deaf Community in general — aren’t being quoted. Part of the problem is that many monoglots like me can’t understand what’s being said (my fault, not theirs, obviously). To counteract this problem a little bit, I’m going to be following this story on Planet DeafQueer, which seems to be the only news source that ever reports what Gallaudet students say, and I’d recommend other folks do the same.