Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has proposed forming an LGBTQIA+ commission to ensure protections for, and address issues impacting. the county’s LGBTQIA+ residents.
During a Wednesday press conference, Ball announced tentative plans for creating a commission, which must first be approved by the Howard County Council. A news release from Ball’s office says legislation to form the commission will be filed next month.
The commission duties would build upon the work done by the county’s LGBTQ working group, which launched in 2019 and has made several recommendations for improving LGBTQ residents’ lives and providing support to vulnerable community members.
“We will always support and affirm our LGBTQ community and need to take action in the face of increased attacks on gay and transgender equality across the country,” Ball said in a statement. “Howard County can be a beacon and a model on how to uplift all our residents, and how to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone.”
If approved, the commission would be comprised of at least 13 members of the LGBTQ community, and would be tasked with promoting education and mobilization efforts among the LGBTQ community, coordinating with allied individuals, groups, and organizations, and identifying “best practices” to affirm members of the LGBTQ community, reports the Baltimore Sun.
The commission would also propose initiatives to support families headed by LGBTQ people and same-sex couples; advise the county of policies and programs that benefit underserved members of the LGBTQ community; and plan events to celebrate and affirm the LGBTQ community.
The commission would be required to submit an annual report to the County Council and the County Executive.
Balls’s proposal coincides with Pride Month, when members of the LGBTQ community are typically celebrated. But it also comes on the heels of the school board in nearby Carroll County voting to ban Pride flags from classrooms and other public spaces in schools — which some pundits have pointed to as evidence of a backlash against political correctness, “woke” ideology, and increased LGBTQ visibility.
“This is not Texas,” Byron MacFarlane, the county’s register of wills and the first openly gay elected official in Howard County, said in the news release. “This is not Carroll County. This is Howard County.
“Today, we are saying loud and clear that queer voices will be heard, we will have our say in our government, and we will have a seat at the table,” MacFarlane continued. “We are sending a message, especially, to our young people, who need now more than ever to hear from those of us in positions of leadership, that we see them and will do everything we can to give them a safe, healthy, and nurturing environment to grow and achieve their potential.”
Yolanda Sonnier, the administrator for the county’s Office of Human Rights and Equity, said that having a permanent commission would better allow the county to identify and address issues affecting LGBTQ county residents.
“The work that is needed could not be concluded in 18 months,” Sonnier told the Sun. “In fact, the quest to equality, eradicating discrimination and having equitable outcomes cannot be put on a timeline, and having a permanent commission will allow the commissioners to address the evolving needs and concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
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