Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Having Our Seat at the (Round)Table


Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman convenes LGBTQ Roundtable
in June 2016     Photo: Office of the County Executive
On November 26, the final County Executive’s LGBTQ+ Roundtable took place whereby several diverse members of the community participated in a discussion on what has been accomplished so far and what needs to be addressed moving forward amid the uncertainty that is inevitable with a change in administration.  The architect of this confab, outgoing Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, was not present for this installment but his mark had already been made.

The LGBTQ+ Roundtable is not a formal group or a commission; it is a periodic listening session for members of the LGBTQ+ community to bring issues to the County Executive’s attention. The Roundtable began in October 2015 fulfilling a campaign promise  made by Mr. Kittleman in 2014, and the meetings have been held on a quarterly basis since.  #hocopolitics

“As County Executive, I convened the LGBT Roundtable to ensure that I continue to have open lines of communication with the LGBT community and to better hear and understand the issues that are important to the community,” Mr. Kittleman told the Washington Blade. “In this way, we can ensure that County government is doing all it can to promote acceptance and inclusiveness of all people, and work to eliminate discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or sexual identity.”

Participants typically include representatives from PFLAG, Chase Brexton Health Care, Howard County government, a member of the Human Rights Commission, members of the Board of Education, as well as other LGBTQ+ advocates.

At the initial meeting topics discussed included de-gendering single stall restrooms; training for first responders and other County employees; ways to make both County government and private businesses more LGBT-friendly; and generally encouraging greater social acceptance through education and institutional change.

In the next meeting in March 2016, topics covered how senior centers treat LGBT elders and the interaction between transgender individuals and County service providers.

In June 2016 the Deputy Chief of Operations for the Howard County Police Department, briefed the attendees on the types of training officers are given at the entry level and annual in-service instruction including distance learning training on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The training covers such areas as sensitivity, arrest and search, hate bias recognition as well as dealing with implicit and explicit bias incidents directed towards the LGBT population as well as other groups in the county.

Also, the Director of Corrections was on hand to answer questions specifically related to the intake process including forms and the housing of transgender inmates.  Concerns had been raised (and corrective action eventually taken) on how transgender individuals are being misgendered by police and intake personnel at correction facilities and the use of solitary confinement as routine or standard protective placement for LGBT inmates to protect LGBTQ+ inmates.

This past August 20, representatives from the school system attended the Roundtable and discussed the fact they had met with students, staff, PFLAG, GLSEN to deal with myriad issues related to the transgender population in the schools. Topics, such as using the preferred name/pronoun and how students feel safe in classes, bathrooms, locker rooms, field trips, extracurricular activities, etc. were addressed.

Individuals from other departments and agencies as well as outside organizations have attended the meetings. They include but are not limited to: Office of Children and Families; Community Resources and Services; Howard County General Hospital; Department of Social Services-Foster system, Department of Human Resources, SAGE; and the Office on Aging and Independence.

In addition, the intersectionality with other marginalized groups, such as the homeless population, youth, seniors, and those LGBTQ+ individuals incarcerated has: (1) fostered better understanding of these groups; (2) taken steps to remedy any identified deficiencies; (3) proactively reviewed policies and procedures (4) incorporated concerns in departmental training; and (5) enhanced overall success in ensuring equity and inclusion in the county.

As far as I know, this executive-level gathering that focuses on LGBTQ+ issues had never been implemented in the state.  However, Baltimore City government recently established a formal LGBTQ+ commission with similar goals as the Howard County Roundtable.  

“I am so indebted to County Executive Kittleman for being the first Howard County Executive to start an LGBTQ+ Roundtable,” said Susan Garner, a retired Howard County school psychologist and former President of PFLAG-Howard County. “He initiated the idea to invite various county agencies to our quarterly roundtable meetings to increase their competence in understanding LGBTQ+ issues and to follow through on initiatives to make Howard County a safer place for LGBTQ+ individuals, their families and allies.”

Attendees of the Roundtable have found reassurance through these meetings.

“It’s amazing to live in a place where our leaders sit down to listen to the LGBT community and heed our words,” said Suzi Gerb, an educator and a member of the PFLAG-Howard County steering committee. “It becomes a great comfort to know that those who run our government are aware of our existence and take our needs into consideration.”

The group attending the November 26 meeting identified areas that need further examination in 2019.  Among them are: conducting surveys with LGBTQ+ inmates in correctional facilities to gauge the prisoner population climate; meet with state-level Department of Social Services to discuss foster care for youth and prospective parents; and coordinate with the Howard County Economic Development Authority to create a relationship with the Maryland LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce.

“The County Executive’s LGBTQ+ Roundtable is more than just a simple gathering,” explains Jumel Howard, Vice President of PFLAG-Howard County and the chair of the HoCo Pride Planning Committee. “It is a driving force for Howard County’s LGBTQ+ community. The wealth of knowledge that is brought to the table and the diversity of the group are a true testament to the excellence of our county.”

Whether or not the LGBTQ+ Roundtable will continue under the new County Executive Calvin Ball remains to be seen.

No comments: