Howard County was one of the first counties in the nation to add nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation to its Human Rights Law when it passed the County Council and was signed into law in 1977. In 2011, the county added similar protections based on gender identity and expression to that law — two and a half years before the statewide law, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, was passed.
Recently, County Executive Allan H. Kittleman proposed a bill aimed at restructuring the county’s Human Rights Commission that through amendments would update the definition of sexual orientation. Equality Maryland was asked to provide the best language for the change in definition.
The current definition states, “Sexual orientation means the preference or practice of an individual as to male or female homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality.” The proposed bill would update it to replace “preference or practice” with “identification” and insert “actual or perceived.”
Testifying on behalf of proposed Amendments to Council Bill No. 4-2015, Keith Thirion, director of advocacy and programs for Equality Maryland, made the case to change the definition.
“The current definition of sexual orientation reflects outdated misconceptions that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is a choice and a lifestyle,” Thirion said. “Updating this definition to include identification is more accurate and respectful of who lesbian, gay and bisexual people are.”
He continued, “Equality Maryland also supports adding ‘actual or perceived’ to the definition because discrimination caused by negative attitudes or beliefs about lesbian, gay and bisexual people can occur because of the perception of another person’s sexual orientation, regardless of if they identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.”
Kittleman said the amendment “is more consistent with the community’s current philosophies.” The measure is expected to pass.