23 Aug 2014
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Council Passes Amended Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill

Bill establishing term limits for council members tabled.

Council Passes Amended Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill

UPDATED (9:07 a.m.)—A split Baltimore County Council approved a controversial transgender anti-discrimination bill Tuesday night by a 5-2 vote.

The bill, sponsored by Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals seeking housing, financing or employment.

"It's a night for equality," said Quirk. "We sent a loud message that discrimination is wrong. This bill is about equality. This bill is about human rights."

The vote went along party lines with Councilmen Todd Huff and David Marks, Republicans from Timonium and Perry Hall respectively, voting against the bill.

Huff was not immediately available for comment after the meeting and did not return a call from a reporter seeking comment.

Supporters of the bill praised its passage.

"I am proud of the hard work that the council did to come to this decision," said Mark Patro, a Perry Hall resident and president of the Baltimore County chapter of  Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians. "The Council Made the right decision."

"I would also like to acknowledge the difficult decision that David Marks made today," said Patro.

Marks, in a phone interview, said he voted against the bill because he "still had questions and this issue is being debated at the state level."

There is also the question of whether Marks new district would support the bill. The new district, as drawn late last year, is decidedly more Republican than the current configuration.

"I think voters in my district picked me to make independent decisions based on what I think is right," said Marks. "That's what I've done."

The council amended the bill Monday night in an attempt to deal with concerns about language dealing with public accommodations—specifically the use of public restrooms.

The bill as proposed did not require businesses to make such facilities available to transgender people. Quirk, in an interview last month, said he believed the bill would give businesses a choice.

Many others on the council said public outcry over that language became the biggest issue in the bill.

An amendment unanimously passed Monday night adopted language used in similar laws in Howard and Montgomery counties that protects businesses from discrimination lawsuits for setting their own rules governing "facilities that are distinctly private and personal."

Two other amendments were also adopted. The first restates exemptions already in the current county anti-discrimination law. A second amendment allows employers to establish appearance, grooming and dress standards for employees as long as they are directly related to the job and are consistent with state and federal law and the individual's gender identity.

Cathy Brennan, a Towson lawyer and lesbian activist, said the bill, as written, is anti-feminist because it re-enforces traditional gender stereotypes on women.

"That's really the feminist opposition to this bill," said Brennan.

Brennan, who has performed legal and political work on lesbian and feminist issues and helped pass a statewide law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2001, said definitions in the bill are "vague and subject to interpretation."

"Frankly, I think it's a cop out," said Brennan.

Ann Miller, a Phoenix resident and opponent of the bill, called the vote "not unexpected" and said she and others are focusing on their next step.

"We're focusing on the next phase—petitioning this bill to referendum," said Miller.

Among Miller's concerns, and those of other opponents, is the worry that the bill opens the door to curriculum changes in county schools. The law, as passed, does not require the school system to teach a transgender-focused curriculum and nothing in current law prohibits the school system from developing it now.

"This opens the door to school indoctrination," said Miller. "It gives leverage to special interest lobbies to push for it and have the backing of the law to say it woud be discrimination not to do it."

Miller said she she does not support discrimination against transgender persons but believes there are already adequate protections within county law.

"I categorically reject that," said Quirk. "That's not an accurate statement."

In other council news:

• The council voted 6-1 to table a bill sponsored by Councilman David Marks that would have set term limits for council members.

Councilman Todd Huff, a Timonium Republican who co-sponsored the bill, initially voted with the majority to table the bill. In a Wednesday morning phone interview, Huff said he made a mistake and changed his vote after the session.

The bill would have amended the County Charter and limited councilmembers to three terms, contingent on voter approval, beginning with the 2014 election.

Marks ran on the issue of term limits in 2010. After the meeting, he said the council's rejection of the bill ends the issue.

"I think I've done my best on this issue," said Marks after the meeting. "I don't intend to push this any further. I think I've done my part to address this issue."

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