Two bills that make it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation received overwhelming support from the community Tuesday.
More than a dozen supporters of the LGBTQ community attended Tuesday’s County Council meeting, supporting both bills introduced by County Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D).
The bills are simple: They add the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to two separate sections of the Frederick County code, both involving the county’s Human Relations Commission.
“Discrimination based upon race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, familial status, gender identity, sexual orientation, or source of income is contrary to the public policy of Frederick County,” a draft of the updated policy now reads.
The bills are meant to prevent discrimination when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodation, and brings county code up to date with state law.
Several people spoke at a public hearing about the bills. That included Liz Barrett, a member of the county’s Board of Education.
Barrett, who is a lesbian, described a recent encounter she had with a woman at Costco, and its impact on her.
“There are moments that still take my knees out from under me sometimes,” she said.
She overheard the woman use a slur to describe her. When Barrett turned around and replied, the woman avoided eye contact and walked away, Barrett said.
“That’s life for a lot of people for any number of reasons, of all of our variations and our differences,” Barrett said. “But she could have been my landlord. And she could be somebody making health care decisions about my family coming to see me in the hospital. And she in Frederick County could very well be in county government somewhere. ...
“She can absolutely think those things and say those things, but she has no ability to hurt my friends and my family,” Barrett added of the bill’s effect.
Miles Ward, director of the county’s Human Relations Department, said he received five to 10 calls from individuals, mostly concerning discrimination regarding employment because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
People often pursue relief through the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. If they have a good attorney, however, they will pull the complaint and file it in the county’s Circuit Court, where they can receive “compensatory damages, emotional damages, pain and suffering, attorney’s fees, injunctions and other equitable relief,” Ward said.
In an interview Wednesday, Ward said the county’s current outlook on discrimination cases is to stop the behavior, not take people to court. He added that dates back to the late 1980s, when the county established its Human Relations Commission.
Under county code, people can sue and get remedies such as corrective action by their employer or reinstatement of the position, Ward said.
The courts, however, can provide substantial relief in some circumstances. Ward cited the case of Gail Sterling, a Frederick woman who received a $1 million settlement from Atlantic Automotive Group in Silver Spring in 2008.
Sterling was fired by the company in March 2002, but sued because she felt she was being sexually harassed by a supervisor, The Frederick News-Post reported in March 2008.
Ward said Fitzwater’s bills should provide protections against that type of discrimination for the LGBTQ community. Both are scheduled for a vote Tuesday evening at Winchester Hall.
Fitzwater said she was happy to see support for them, and anticipates that both will pass.
“It’s all based on people’s experiences,” she said about why she introduced them. “No one should be discriminated against just because of who they are.”