In my last post here at the Crossroads, I discussed how the restless energies of this Samhain season are creating major rifts…not only for interpersonal relationships, but also within communities – individuals lining up on either side of the issues and taking pot shots at one another.
I’m seeing this happening in the Deaf Community also, and especially on the campus of my alma mater – Gallaudet University. Gallaudet is a federally chartered university for the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C. It was the first and for many years the only school for the advanced education of the deaf, and today it continues to be a internationally recognized leader in such, as well as addressing many of the issues that impact the Deaf Community.
But at the moment, Gallaudet has been thrust into the not-so-desirable national limelight and the campus is rife with debate and debacle over a controversial issue that has found its way into the Deaf Community – the question of gay rights and same-sex marriage.
It all began when a Gallaudet faculty member – herself a lesbian and tenured professor – was reviewing a list of names published in a local newspaper… names of those who had signed a petition to put Question 6, also known as the Maryland Same-Sex Civil Marriage Referendum on the November ballot. Amongst those names, the professor recognized one as being that of a fellow Gallaudet employee. That in and of itself might not be such a big deal…
except that this staff member holds the position of Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet University.
The professor approached the Chief Diversity Officer, who acknowledged that she had indeed signed the petition at her church, after her pastor had given a sermon asking the congregation to reject redefining marriage. The professor filed a formal complaint and on October 10th Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz announced that he had placed the Chief Diversity Officer – Dr. Angela McCaskill, a 23 year veteran of the university who also was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D from Gallaudet – on paid administrative leave.
Since then the campus has been under fire, the media has been having a field day, and the Deaf Community has been split over this whole situation.
So how do I, as a Deaf Pagan and a Gallaudet alumnus feel about this whole thing? I’m not sure.
First of all, let me say that I do not know Dr. McCaskill. I have never met her, I have never talked to her. Based upon statements from others, she appears to have been well-liked and well-respected on the campus. LGBT students at Gallaudet say they considered her a friend and ally, and were shocked and disappointed to learn of her actions, considering it inappropriate of the school’s diversity officer.
I myself was both surprised and concerned when I first read the news regarding Angela McCaskill – not merely because I consider myself a supporter of gay rights and same-sex marriage, but also because it left me wondering how Dr. McCaskill and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Gallaudet University has addressed and would continue to address the needs of the various groups which fall under the diversity umbrella. Such groups can be defined not merely by race, gender, or sexual orientation but also by cultural beliefs, political beliefs…
and religious beliefs.
Somehow I’m just not sure how much confidence I can have in a diversity officer who seems to allow the teachings of her church to influence her in engaging in actions that might be counterproductive to the role she is expected to carry out on the campus.
Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t bother me that Dr. McCaskill is a Christian. I just hope it doesn’t bother her that I happen to be a Pagan. Or that it bothers the Office of Diversity and Inclusion should a group of Gallaudet students show up with a letter requesting to perform Full Moon Esbats on the campus, or asking to invite yours truly to lead a Dreaming the Dark ritual during the Sabbat of Samhain.
Maybe there are practitioners of alternative religions on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Diversity Advisory Board…I don’t know. I do think it is interesting that there does not appear to be a representative from the Department of Philosophy and Religion on the board, or even the Office of Campus Ministries; although I do see that in response to the White House Interfaith Initiative, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is working with the Office of Campus Ministries to offer a series of one-hour presentations during which representatives of various faith traditions will explain core beliefs and practices. I’m happy to see Buddhism and Hinduism amongst the religions represented.
Unfortunately, it appears Paganism did not make the list.
I admit I find this ironically amusing, in light of the current discussions of racism and homophobia that seem to be popping up everywhere regarding the McCaskill incident.
As a general rule us Pagans are a pretty liberal bunch, and as such quite accepting of homosexuality. There are a number of members of the LGBT Community amongst our Pagan leaders and teachers. By the same token, there are also plenty of People of Color who practice the Pagan Path. Granted, while some of the more popular and widely-known paths might have stemmed from mostly-white European traditions, today’s Pagan Community is a remarkably diverse one – a melting pot of members representing practically every racial and ethnic background you can think of.
In discussing the Angela McCaskill situation with my fellow Pagans, our compassion for Dr. McCaskill is evident – we feel deeply for her and for what she has had to endure over the past couple of weeks. At the same time, we can also empathize with those who feel a sense of betrayal by Dr. McCaskill’s actions. We agree that Angela deserves to have a private life, and the rights that come along with such. But we must also acknowledge that her job is highly sensitive, and her role is relatively public. As such, the public perception of her alleged bigotry could have a chilling affect on the campus and the perception of the university, with people reasonably concluding that a person who signed such a petition would be prejudiced.
For me personally, I’m still struggling a bit with this issue, and still riding the fence. I believe in trying to look at this situation from various perspectives, while keeping an open mind. Much like Dr. McCaskill, I too feel the need to stay true to the basic tenets of my faith, while maintaining an adherence to my own principles as defined within my own ethical framework.
So while I do believe Angela McCaskill is a good person…I’m not sure if she is the right person for this particular position.
One of my Pagan friends, who works as a mental health professional at a state prison, made an interesting observation – that as a counselor serving prison inmates, he works with a lot of people whose beliefs and lifestyles he personally disagrees with and is opposed to. However, unless he can put aside his personal views and work with such individuals, he would be ineffective at his job. In another words, his personal life beliefs are separate from his profession. While understanding the conflict, he also feels that one can successfully work at a job that conflicts with their personal beliefs…if said person can see the bigger picture and walk that line effectively.
I think that’s the question that remains to be answered here – can Dr. McCaskill effectively put her personal views aside and do what is expected of her on the job to carry out the duties of Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet University. Judging from the statements I have seen on Deaf internet forums, it appears many are not convinced. The general feeling seems to be that while she should be welcomed back to the campus, Dr. McCaskill should be transferred to a new job, and not reinstated back into her former position.
However, as the case progresses, what has been bothering me these days is that I cannot decide what troubles me more:
that Angela McCaskill signed the petition, that she got put on administrative leave for doing so, or that she’s now being used as the poster child for various organizations to tout their own political and personal agendas…many of which have decidedly religious undertones.
Consider that the Maryland Marriage Alliance – a predominately Christian organization – has pounced on the actions of Gallaudet University to turn Dr. McCaskill into a martyr to promote its own anti-gay rhetoric. Shortly after the news broke regarding her administrative leave, Dr. McCaskill found herself prominently featured in one of the organization’s political ads. A televised ad features video footage of Dr. McCaskill on the job, while a voice-over states
They promised us Question 6 protects people who oppose gay marriage. But it doesn’t. Dr. Angela McCaskill is an official at GU. She signed the petition putting Question 6 on the ballot. Then she was suspended from her job. She’s not alone. When marriage has been redefined elsewhere as Question 6 does, people who believe in traditional marriage have been punished. They were threatened. He was fired. They were sued. Who will be next? We’re all at risk under Question 6.
In addition, images of Dr. McCaskill are appearing the Maryland Marriage Alliance’s printed ads, as can be seen below:
It should be noted that Angela McCaskill did not give her approval to be incorporated in such ads, and has in fact requested that the Maryland Marriage Alliance stop using her image. The organization has stated it has no plans to do so.
Other Christian organizations have also been jumping on the bandwagon, adding their own voices to the fracas. And a situation that began as and should have remained as a secular issue pertaining to a employee’s choice to endorse a controversial topic that relates significantly to her work…
has turned into anything but.
As a friend of mine aptly described it, it’s a hot mess. And sadly…I feel that no matter what the outcome is, there will be no true winners in this scenario.
Trust has been damaged. Reputations have been tarnished. Accusations have been made. There are hurt, angry, bitter feelings on all sides. And in the midst of it all, ugly things can get said.
I end this post in the same manner by which I began it…by reminding those impacted by this incident that this is the time of Samhain. While it is a time of celebration, it is also a time of chaos, and that seems to be especially true this year. The astrologers within the Pagan Community have been reminding me for several weeks that we are in for a rough ride. Now more than ever before, the best thing we can do is stop and pay attention to others, and to our reactions to others. We need to work together to not allow these chaotic energies to destroy us.
We need to remember to use our magickal tools of knowledge, ability, honesty, integrity, courage and compassion to help us face the stark and overwhelming realities that confront us, to acknowledge feelings, and to transmute those feelings into the energy needed to create positive change.
As we prepare for the coming darkness of winter, let us not allow such darkness to defeat us. Yes, things may feel very dark at Gallaudet University these days. But like within the life-giving darkness of the mother’s womb, thus can a new life for my alma mater grow in this darkness…and be born into an opportunity for greater growth and deeper understanding. And a journey that may have started in the darkness of anger, fear, confusion and despair can reach a place of hope, and a sense of empowerment.
A journey that promises something at the end.