Maryland looks to establish LGBTQ commission

Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

Del. Lily Qi recounted their stories to the House committee.

There was the patient who was asked to leave her doctor’s office when she told her physician she was a lesbian. 

There was the parent who was told to move to a different city when talking to a school principal about LGBTQ comfort and inclusivity.

Some state lawmakers are looking to make sure those stories become less common — or, at the very least, they are addressed.

So, lawmakers are putting forth a bill, HB130, that would establish a commission that aims to prioritize and address LQBTQ affairs statewide. 

The bill’s sponsor, Qi, D-Montgomery, believes the bill is a necessary measure toward understanding and inclusivity.

“The committee will serve as a home and bridge between the LGBTQ communities and those who love, serve, and care about them,” Qi said at a hearing on Jan. 14.

Qi is proposing a 15-person commission, with all members appointed by the governor, and then confirmed by the Senate. 

The commission is to work on a series of steps toward a more tolerant and educated state. 

It shall assess challenges facing LGBTQ communities, collect data regarding existing policies and discrimination, and then work with local governments to pass laws based on areas of need.

“This is part of the state’s responsibility that civil rights protections are there for the LGBTQ community,” Samantha Jones, president of LGBTQ Democrats of Montgomery County, told Capital News Service. 

The commission is also expected to publish an annual report regarding its progress, as well as denoting ways to approach discriminatory practices in the state.

“We don’t know what the issues are yet. But it will help educate people in the community,” Joe Clapsaddle, a spokesperson on LGBTQ+ issues for the Episcopal Public Policy Network, said. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 State Equality Index, Maryland is the 13th most tolerant state in the nation. 

The bill aims to address that ranking, and foster equality and understanding within the state, too. 

“There are political advocacy organizations, but there’s nothing like what we have for other groups that experience discrimination,” Sen. Mary Washington, D-Baltimore, said. 

Qi pushed a similar piece of legislation through the House last session, but it died when the Legislature shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic

And this time, the bill looks a bit different. 

Qi, in conjunction with Washington, has worked to tweak it in order to foster inclusion within the commission itself. 

Among the modifications is a stipulation that at least two individuals on the commission identify as part of the transgender community. 

They have also adjusted the language to coincide with other Maryland state commissions in an effort to expand its influence.

None of the members of the commission are slated to receive pay, and they are expected to appoint their own chairperson. 

They will serve four-year terms, and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms without a year-long gap in between.

Still, there has been some pushback. In a hearing, legislators raised concerns about some of the technicalities of the language, especially with the scope of protections.

“This is going further. Not only saying you can’t discriminate, but you have to proactively include certain protective classes. Is that what we want to do with other protected classes with amendments?” Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, said at a voting session.  

Despite those qualms, the bill passed a Senate committee on an 8-3 vote Thursday evening and will now go to the Senate floor — where Qi is optimistic it will pass. 

“This is really the time for us to act,” Qi said.

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