Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Courting LGBT Voters in Howard County

Courtney Watson
Allan H. Kittleman
Republican Senator Allan H. Kittleman has been regarded as a hero among LGBT folks throughout the state for bucking his party’s positions and standing up forcefully to advance the cause of same-sex marriage.  He had also been recognized as a stalwart supporter of non-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity. In doing so, he was the sole GOP Senator to speak out and vote for both pieces of legislation.

The Republican caucus in the Senate did not approve of his stands on these issues; consequently he relinquished the Senate Minority Leader post he held. Kittleman eventually brought down the curtain on his Senate career following this term.  He had decided instead to seek the soon-to-be vacant county executive position in Howard County that is currently being held by the term-limited Ken Ulman.

“Senator Allan Kittleman’s support did not come without a cost; he lost his leadership position,” said Carrie Evans, executive director for Equality Maryland.  “But that didn’t deter him. He worked with the campaign to lend a Republican voice to the chorus of support for Question 6. His support allowed for more Republicans to come forward claiming marriage equality as a Republican value.”

Kittleman has no regrets concerning his pro-LGBT views. “It is said of Robert Kennedy that he ‘saw wrongs and tried to right them,’ and I’ve tried to do the same,” he explained referring to a Democratic icon.  “That is why I co-sponsored and helped lead the effort to bring marriage equality to Maryland; that is also why I co-sponsored this session’s Fairness for All Marylanders legislation to provide equal rights to members of the transgender community.”
Kittleman’s opponent in the Howard County executive race is two-term Democratic Councilwoman Courtney Watson.  Neither candidate is facing a primary challenge.  But as much as Kittleman has earned praise from many LGBT people in the county and around the state, Watson has no intent to cede that demographic to her opponent knowing that every vote matters.

“We all celebrated the marriage victory in Maryland in 2012; it was a great day for something that was long overdue,” Watson said.  Howard County voted 59 to 41 percent in favor of marriage equality in the 2012 referendum.
She has been acclaimed particularly for her work in passing gender identity protections in Howard County, and that effort helped to bring about similar legislation in Baltimore County.

“When I learned about the difficulties facing a transgender classmate of my son's, I started working on a gender identity non-discrimination bill for Howard County and once we passed it in Howard in 2011, I took it to Baltimore County and shared it with my colleagues there who introduced and passed in 2012,” she recalls. “I testified on the bill in Baltimore County and also at the state hearings two years in a row.  With two more counties having successfully implemented this civil rights legislation, gender identity protections got much needed momentum in the General Assembly this year.”
Regarded as a swing county, Howard had been trending Democratic for over a decade yet many project this to be a tight race.  Estimates are that LGBT individuals represent 3% of the county’s population, which translates into roughly 9,000 potential voters.  When you add in families of LGBT people, friends, neighbors, co-workers and other supporters in this ever-widening circle, the amount of votes up for grab could be quite valuable and worth the effort for both candidates to woo. 

No stranger to tight elections is Byron Macfarlane, who edged out four-term Republican incumbent Kay Hartleb in 2010 to become the county’s Register of Wills.  Macfarlane is the first openly gay elected official in Howard and enthusiastically backs Watson.
“I endorse Courtney Watson for County Executive because of her support for marriage equality, her efforts during the marriage ballot referendum, her unparalleled leadership on championing gender identity protections, and her commitment that the LGBT community will always have a seat at the table on important issues facing our county,” Macfarlane said.  “I’m thrilled to be joining her to celebrate LGBT Pride Month with colleagues in government and a host of community leaders.” 

Indeed, Macfarlane will be the principal host of a campaign rally to boost LGBT support on June 1 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Azul 17, located at 9400 Snowden River Parkway, #127 in Columbia.
For his part, Kittleman is planning a similar event to attract LGBT voters. “We are working with our many LGBT supporters to organize an event in the summer/fall.”

Watson extols Howard County’s strong record on LGBT rights.  “I am proud that Howard County has led the way for LGBT issues in many ways, and as County Executive, I will continue to build a strong Howard County where all people are welcome and supported,” she says. 
“But this work isn't just about legislation; it’s about creating a community of support and encouragement where all people can reach their full potential,” Watson adds.  “As County Executive, I will work to make sure that all county service providers, from teachers to professionals who work with seniors, to first responders, have competency training and education about issues facing the LGBT community.  I am committed especially to provide the supports that can be lacking in some of our schools for children who are struggling.  StandUpHoCo is a county anti-bullying initiative begun this year that I worked with Ken Ulman to fund and implement, and I will continue to expand this important program.”

Sharon Brackett, a trans woman from Laurel who is board chair at Gender Rights Maryland, has had positive experiences with both candidates.  “As the key bill sponsor of the Gender Identity bill I have found [Watson] supportive of the Trans community.  I asked her to testify both in Baltimore County and in Annapolis and she did so willingly. I have interacted with her at a few business functions at the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship,” said Brackett who is President and CEO of Tiresias Technologies, Inc.
In that respect, Brackett, who acknowledges Kittleman being the sole Senate Republican to support transgender rights, said she has had good discussions about business development with him.  “He always seems genuinely pleased to see me and offers a hug.” 

Kittleman points to his record on fairness as to why he should receive LGBT support.  “As County Executive, I will ensure that Howard County continues to be a leader in the effort to treat all individuals, all families and all marriages equally,” he says.  “Discrimination and intolerance will not be condoned in my administration.  I will expect and demand that those in my administration treat everyone equally regardless of their sexual orientation.  Further, members of the LGBT community will always have a seat at the table in my administration.  I will proactively reach out to the LGBT community to get their input on issues affecting Howard County.”
Because both candidates have been so supportive in Howard County, regardless of who comes out on top in November, LGBT folks and their allies stand to be winners as well.
#HoCoPolitics

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a very thoughtful, well-written, and unbiased piece. I would assert that Senator Kittleman has shown leadership, independence and courage by supporting the dignity and rights of the LGBT community. He has gone against his party on this as well as other moral issues. All voters should take this into account when choosing the next Howard County Executive.

Anonymous said...

I would also say that one or two courageous votes in an election cycle are great- but pale in comparison to hard work in the trenches over many years. Leadership is not a single vote- it's a lifetime of votes. Courtney Watson is a leader. But- most important - is the conclusion which the LGBT community has come a long way in the last generation and progressive Howard County is leading the way. It is a safer place than it was just a generation ago- but there is still work to be done.

Anonymous said...

I would also add... it is self serving for a candidate's supporter to suggest that the LGBT community owes Mr. Kittleman- or any other candidate- anything for finally doing the right thing- especially when there is so much more that needs to be done. Look to the future.