ANNAPOLIS – The enactment of Maryland’s 2001 Anti-discrimination Act means David Pool no longer has to fear losing his job.
In 1990, the Hagerstown man was fired, before he’d even started work, after his employers discovered he was gay.
“I was devastated by it, because I knew the managing partner personally,” said Pool. “Today, it’s still unfair. It affected me financially. I used up my retirement fund. It affected my family and my relationship with my partner. I’m not a person that carries grudges, but it still upsets me that it happened.”
His story is not unusual within Maryland’s gay and lesbian community, but activists are hoping such stories will become rare after the Nov. 21 enactment of the act, which had been held up by a court battle after its passage in the spring.
Such a law is necessary, activists said. The Maryland American Civil Liberties Union reported 16 cases of sexual orientation discrimination since January 2000.
Montgomery County alone had six cases in fiscal year 2001, five in employment and one in real estate, despite having gay rights protections in place.
The law became effective after Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Eugene Lerner ruled opponents of the law did not have enough valid signatures to send it to referendum in 2002. The law, signed April 15, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in regard to public accommodation, housing and employment. Maryland became the 12th state to enact such protections for homosexuals.
Anti-gay rights activists from TakeBackMaryland.org launched a petition campaign aimed at sending the law to voters, but Lerner ruled that inaccuracies invalidated enough signatures to cause the group to fall short of its goal of 46,128.
“It means that we can start . . . a new era of fairness in the state of Maryland,” said Shannon Avery, director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore. “(It) means a lot to people in their individual lives.”
“It goes to show the people of Maryland are a lot more accepting of alternative lifestyles than what people think,” said Pool.
“Maryland is sending a signal that it is a tolerant state that values all its citizens,” said Dwight Sullivan, managing attorney for the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union.
Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties, as well as Baltimore, already had laws to protect sexual orientation discrimination before the state law was passed.
Baltimore resident Mike Engler was also discriminated against by a western Maryland employer, and that led to financial and psychological problems. Now self-employed, Engler was fired from a Cumberland financial services company in 1989 for being gay.
“It drastically disrupted my career,” he said. “It took a couple years of pretty hard times and it was an emotional blow, too.”
It forced him to relocate, sell his car and spend his savings, while being unemployed for several years. Although he has not faced discrimination since, Engler has high hopes for what the law means to the gay community.
“Hopefully it will prevent other people from having to go through that personal disruption in their life,” said Engler.
Proponents of the legislation said it should also benefit Maryland businesses.
“In a time of a competitive economic environment, Maryland has to be on the forefront of fair labor practices,” said Avery. “Maryland is trying to attract big businesses and that won’t happen unless you have fair (employment practices).”