The County Council of Baltimore County heard hours of testimony Feb. 14 from both sides on a bill that would prohibit discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in the areas of housing, employment, education, public accommodations and financing. The council is expected to vote on the measure Feb. 21.
The measure, Bill No. 3-12, is sponsored by four of the seven councilmembers: Tom Quirk (D-1st), Vicki Almond (D-2nd), Cathy Bevins (D-6th) and Kenneth Oliver (D-4th). If passed Feb. 21, the bill will take effect in 45 days.
Baltimore County's passage of the bill would make it the fourth jurisdiction in Maryland to adopt such nondiscrimination protections. Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Howard County have similar laws that prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Taken together, the four jurisdictions comprise almost half of the state's population.
Following the notorious beating of 22-year-old transgender woman Chrissy Lee Polis in a Baltimore County McDonald's restaurant in April 2011, supporters of the transgender community called for similar bills to be passed on the state level. Her attacker, 19-year-old Teona Brown, was later sentenced to five years in prison.
Advocates of the bill hope its likely passage will add impetus to lawmakers in Annapolis passing a statewide comprehensive nondiscrimination bill with protections for gender identity. Sexual orientation is already protected under state law. Last year's gender identity bill, which did not include public accommodations, was killed in the Senate after passing the House of Delegates 86-52.
Dr. Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, said advocates for gender identity nondiscrimination hope that Senate President Thomas V. ''Mike'' Miller (D-Calvert, Prince George's counties) in particular will be convinced to allow the measure to be voted upon in the Senate.
Beyer also said that there may be a similar measure proposed in Prince George's County in 2013.