Baltimore County Council members heard emotional testimony Tuesday as dozens of residents turned out to speak about a proposal meant to prohibit discrimination against transgender people.
Supporters of the legislation, introduced Tuesday by Catonsville Democrat Tom Quirk, said the county must protect transgender people in the workplace and other areas. Opponents said they fear the bill would have dangerous consequences, including allowing men into women's restrooms.
The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing county laws that prohibit discrimination in housing, at work and in public places. It comes nearly a year after a videotaped attack on Chrissy Lee Polis, a transgender woman, at a Rosedale McDonald's drew national attention.
Several speakers Tuesday mentioned their fears about public restrooms. Anita Schatz, who said she survived a rape more than 40 years ago when she was 18, said she and other women believe the bill "would open the door for sexual predators" to abuse women and girls in restrooms.
John Correlli said the proposal made him fearful for his female relatives.
"It pains me to think that we would allow men into the women's rooms where these girls could be by themselves," he said. "It is deplorable."
Those supporting the bill, many dressed in purple in a show of unity, said opponents mentioned bathrooms only to stoke fears.
"This bill is about protecting people from discrimination," said Mark Patro of the group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "The bill is not about bathrooms,"
Jenna Fischetti told council members she works for $8 an hour at a Kohl's department store after being fired from her job as a finance manager at an Owings Mills car dealership when her employer found out she is transgender.
"I lost a $100,000-a-year job specifically because of my gender identify," Fischetti said.
The bill appears to have enough support on the seven-member council to pass. In addition to Quirk, three other council members — Democrats Vicki Almond, Cathy Bevins and Kenneth Oliver — have signed on as sponsors. The council plans to discuss the legislation at a work session in February.
Also Tuesday, the council approved along party lines a contract that will allow the county to install 14 new speed and red-light cameras this year. Republicans David Marks and Todd Huff voted against the agreement with ACS State & Local Solutions.
In other business, Marks introduced a measure that would limit council members to three consecutive terms. His bill would put the issue to a referendum. That proposal also is scheduled for discussion in February.