February 22, 2012 at 11:40 am EDT | by Steve Charing
Baltimore County passes gender identity bill

The Baltimore County Council passed a bill Tuesday in a 5-2 vote that would bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. All Democrats voted in favor of the measure.

“It’s highly significant in that 800,000 people in Baltimore County are now covered,” said Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland. “That brings the total in the state to 2.5 million or over half the population of the state. It’s also indicative of the momentum we’re building for trans protections in that we passed two [trans non-discrimination] bills in the past three months. And that gives us an opportunity to work this thing in Annapolis and hopefully get the State Senate president’s attention and his permission to let this through.”

A statewide gender identity non-discrimination bill is pending in the General Assembly where Senate President Mike Miller has resisted bringing it to a vote, saying he can only deal with “one gay issue at a time.” A bill that did not include public accommodations died in the Senate last year.

The Baltimore County bill was introduced by Council member Tom Quirk of Catonsville on Jan. 17 and a hearing was held Feb. 14. Opponents claimed that the legislation would allow men to dress as women to enter public restrooms to attack women. No such outcome has been documented in jurisdictions where similar laws have been passed.

But when the hearing took place on Feb. 14, supporters of the bill outnumbered opponents 44-14. And the day before the vote only a dozen or so, including Republican Rep. Andy Harris, demonstrated outside Quirk’s Catonsville office.

There had been fear on the part of the bill’s supporters that an amendment would be introduced that would exclude public accommodations, but that did not materialize.

Quirk acknowledged that the beating of transgender woman Chrissy Lee Polis in a Rosedale McDonald’s, which was caught on video and went viral, was a factor in introducing the measure.

Similar legislation was passed in Howard County in December; Baltimore City and Montgomery County already provide trans protections in Maryland.

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