Baltimore County Passes Gender-Identity Bill

County Council votes 5-2 to approve comprehensive nondiscrimination protections

By John Riley
Published on February 23, 2012, 6:47am | Comments

The Baltimore County Council passed a transgender rights bill prohibiting discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression on a 5-2 party-line vote Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Bill No. 3-12 protects LGBT people, and specifically transgender individuals, from discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, education, financing and public accommodations. Councilmembers Tom Quirk (D-1st), Vicki Almond (D-2nd), Kenneth Oliver (D-4th), Cathy Bevins (D-6th) and Chairman John Olszewski Sr. (D-7th) voted in favor, with Todd Huff (R-3rd) and David Marks (R-5th) voting against the measure.

Dr. Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, told Metro Weekly her organization had lobbied all of the councilmembers to support the bill, but did not initially expect support from either of the Republicans on the council. She said that Marks indicated he was interested in the bill.

''He obviously decided that party and ideological purity were more important than doing the right thing and representing his constituents,'' Beyer said, noting that Marks represents a Democratic-leaning area around Towson.

But Beyer also stressed she was grateful to Marks for his efforts to clarify the language in the bill to sufficiently satisfy councilmembers in order to gain their support and the positive effect such changes had on the bill's success.

The Baltimore County bill also passes less than a year after the notorious beating of 22-year-old transgender woman Chrissy Lee Polis after she used a woman's bathroom in a McDonald's restaurant in Rosedale, Md. The attack on Polis, which was filmed by an employee and broadcast online, led to statements from the governor and other elected officials and calls from the LGBT community for protections for transgender individuals in public accommodations.

With the passage of the bill, gender-identity protections are now in place in four jurisdictions – Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties – that, taken together, comprise almost half the state's population. What that means, Beyer said, is there is a disparate impact on transgender residents based on where they live: If someone lives in the I-95 corridor, they are protected on the county level, but if they live in the Eastern Shore or western Maryland, they are not.

Beyer points to the geographic disparity as evidence of the need for a statewide gender-identity nondiscrimination bill. Such statewide protections are already provided on the basis of sexual orientation.

In order to pass such a bill, advocates must convince Senate President Thomas V. ''Mike'' Miller (D-Calvert and Prince George's counties) to allow a vote in the Senate on a measure he considers a controversial. In 2011, Miller and several leading Senate Democrats were successful in killing a gender-identity bill that had previously passed the House of Delegates 86-52, though the measure did not include protections for public accommodations as the Baltimore County bill does.