The Baltimore County Council appears set to approve a transgender anti-discrimination bill but it will likely pass with an amendment governing the use of public accommodations, including restrooms.
A bi-partisan coalition has joined Democratic Councilman John Olszewski Sr. and Republican Councilman Todd Huff on an amendment that clarifies provisions governing the use of private and personal facilities, including bathrooms, in a bill sponsored by Councilman Tom Quirk.
Quirk's bill seeks to prevent discrimination against transgender persons in employment, housing and finance. It's similar to one passed last year in Howard County.
The bill as proposed did not require businesses to make such facilities available to transgender people but the councilman said he believed the bill would give businesses a choice.
The amendment clarifies that the law does not apply to bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms or other facilities that are designated for male or female use. The change would essentially protect business owners from discrimination lawsuits.
Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat, said, "The bathroom issue is probably the biggest issue" related to the bill. He said he introduced his amendment with the idea that both sides could work out a compromise.
"If (the amendment passes) maybe it can be worked on and a solution can be reached," said Olszewski.
Olszewski's amendment is one of four amendments given to reporters after the hearing.
Another, sponsored by Olszewski and Marks, allows employers to establish rules governing appearance in the work place while allowing employees to dress in a way that is consistent with their employee's gender identity.
A final amendment, sponsored by Quirk and Bevins, seeks to define the term "gender identity and expression" as a "persistent, bona fide gender-related identity and the consistent public manifestation of that identity" in the appearance of an individual regardless of the person's sex at birth.
Quirk's bill has three co-sponsors, enough to assure passage.
The amendment sponsored by Olszewski and Huff has three co-sponsors, including Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a co-sponsor on Quirk's bill, and Marks.
The council is scheduled to vote on the bill and amendments Monday night at 6 p.m. at the Old Courthouse in Towson.
Olszewski discussed his amendment following more than two hours of testimony on the bill Tuesday. The hearing marked the third time opponents and proponents of the bill descended on the council to speak on the legislation in the last three weeks.
Bevins, in an earlier interview, said she supported Quirk's bill but had growing concerns about the public accommodations portion of the bill. After the hearing, the councilwoman said she heard little to change her opinion.
"My district has been calling me overwhelmingly about the public accommodations," said Bevins, an Oliver Beach Democrat. "I've heard from a lot of business owners in my district. I didn't hear anyone here who was from my district."
Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond had also expressed concerns over the public accommodations portion of the law. Following the hearing, Almond said she felt comfortable with the bill.
"I'm really trying to remember that this is legislation about equality and rights," said Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat. "I really don't think the bathroom issues is that big an issue. The bill is bigger than that."
For many business owners and county residents, concerns about public accommodations became a key issue with many testifying that the law could lead to lawsuits or criminal acts committed by men dressing as women in order to use restrooms designated for women.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, in a letter to the County Council, said his county has had no criminal issues related to passage of a similar bill in his county.
Keith Scott, president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, said business owners are just "want to know how this is going to affect them and what they need to do."
"It's enough that we have to deal with Annapolis and all the tax increases we're seeing," said Scott. "The last thing we want to have to figure out is who we have to let in our bathrooms and who we don't let in out bathrooms."
Johnny Angel, a Dundalk business owner, said the bill creates problems for him.
"I would not allow a transgender man or woman to work for me or use the facilities of another (sex)," said Angel, who also brought his 7-, 6- and 5-year old children with him to testify that they would be concerned about using a bathroom with a transgender person.
Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said that nationally, corporations including "153 Fortune 500 companies protect transgender employees." He added that 3,000 other companies and universities and labor unions nationwide offer similar protections.
"It's corporate America that really has led the way in the protection of transgender employees," Quirk said.
Owen Smith, a transgender man, said he moved to Dundalk from Wisconsin with the desire to become an emergency medical technician. After graduating top of his class at the Community College of Baltimore County, Smith said he encountered difficulties in interviewing in person.
"They would see my face is different from my application," said Smith, who now works for Equality Maryland, an advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. "My drivers license is female and my name is Heidi but I have a beard and go by Owen."
Smith said one in five transgender people have lost their jobs because their are transgender. About 12 percent have been homeless.
Smith said he lost his job because he is transgender.
"I am those statistics," he said.
Mark Patro, a Perry Hall resident and president of the Baltimore County chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians, compared the bill to the federal legislation protecting African Americans.
"Think for a moment about what this country would be if we passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act without allowing African Americans to use the restrooms," said Patro. "Think about that seriously. That's where we're going if you pass this amendment you're talking about."
"If you want to be Strom Thurmond or you want to be Jesse Helms then vote against this bill and the same reputation will follow you," said Patro.