ANNAPOLIS – Gay rights legislation didn’t too well in Maryland in 1999.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s sexual orientation anti-discrimination bill was defeated in January. Shortly after, the State Board of Education denied a proposal to prohibit anti-gay harassment in public schools. The Vatican, over the summer, prohibited a Baltimore nun and priest from pastoral work involving homosexuals.
In the fall, two incidents occurred: Frederick County’s Board of Commissioners voted not to adopt an ordinance prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination after protestors like Bill Devens, head of the Maryland Family Values Alliance said the measure would open a “Pandora’s box of perversion.”
And Montgomery County’s Republican Party denounced a proposal to extend family benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian county employees.
These incidents illustrate why it’s important for Maryland to pass this year’s version of Glendening’s bill, said People for the American Way Thursday in releasing its annual report on gay bashing nationwide called Hostile Climate.
The organization has kept a close eye on Maryland as well as 12 other states that account for two-thirds of the total anti-gay incidents included in the report. Of the 374 incidents, 62 percent took place in the targeted states, including Hawaii, California, Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania.
The organization also announced plans to increase pressure on legislators inthese states, pushing them to enact gay rights legislation this year–using Hostile Climate as a “tool to educate communities and legislators.”
“Hostile Climate is a roadmap that helps show us where we are as a nation in our struggle toward justice for all Americans,” said Ralph Neas, organization president. “It shows us that we have made progress, and it shows us that we have many more miles to travel.”
While the numbers of anti-gay incidents is rising, the organization noted a positive – youth activism is also increasing. In six schools in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin students organized gay- straight alliance clubs in their high schools.
Still, Judith Schaeffer, the organization’s deputy legal director, said gay rights has a long way to go.
“Just because a gay character can headline a sitcom doesn’t mean gays and lesbians are safe,” she said. “In most states, gays and lesbians don’t have to be treated fairly.”
Only 11 states and Washington have passed measures that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment.
Neas said his main focus now is to work with other civil rights, gay rights organizations and legislators to focus on passing gay rights legislation in target states like Maryland.
He’s optimistic, he said, because last year, members of the New York office helped fight for that state’s hate crime legislation, which finally passed after years of failure.
As a Democratic candidate for Congress from Maryland’s 8th Congressional District against Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, in 1998, Neas said he respects Glendening’s efforts and will be an ally this session.
The hearing for Glendening’s anti discrimination act is March 14 in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. – 30 – CNS-2-22-01