November 23, 2011 at 9:26 am EDT | by Steve Charing
Howard County weighs gender identity bill

Twenty advocates of a bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity in Howard County testified before the County Council on Nov. 21. The bill, CB-54, was introduced on Oct. 27 and was sponsored by four of the five Council members, all Democrats: Chairman Calvin Ball, Mary Kay Sigaty, Jennifer Terrasa and Courtney Watson. The fifth member, Greg Fox, a Republican did not sign on.

The bill was crafted and placed before the Council as a result of the work of Gender Rights Maryland and the Howard County chapter of PFLAG. It would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression in the areas of housing, law enforcement, public accommodations, financing, employment, and health and social services.

The bill states: “An act amending the Health and Social Services Title of the Howard County Code to include gender identity and expression as a classification protected against certain types of unlawful, discriminatory practices; and generally relating to the Human Rights law of Howard County.”

If passed, gender identity would become the 16th protected class in Howard County, a jurisdiction known for its progressive record on diversity, and it would join two other Maryland jurisdictions, Baltimore City and Montgomery County with similar protections. A statewide bill is expected to be introduced in the 2012 General Assembly.

Those testifying on behalf of the bill received support from several dozen backers, most of whom donned purple as a way of expressing unity. Supporters from a variety of professional backgrounds testified, including Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane, who’s gay; Gender Rights Maryland board members Sharon Brackett, Dr. Dana Beyer and Jonathan Shurberg; Donna Cartwright of Pride at Work; Richard Espey of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; Liz Seaton of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Wesley Garson of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Carrie Evans, the new executive director of Equality Maryland.

In addition, people from all walks of life—transgender people as well as parents and relatives of children who identify as transgender—testified about how discrimination based on gender identity and expression has hurt them or their loved ones economically and socially. Catherine Hyde from PFLAG offered a compelling testimony on how she almost lost her transgender child to suicide.

Only four opponents of the bill testified. They cited biblical references to augment their positions. Two women—Vanessa Ali and Grace Harley—were asked by Council members to provide statistical data to back up their claims. Neither could produce that information.

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