The new Commission would follow the work of the LGBTQ Workgroup launched in 2019 by County Executive Ball.
“This commission will help move Howard County forward and
will identify best practices to affirm members of the gay and transgender
community; recommend initiatives to support LGBTQIA+ families and children; and
advise us on policy and programs that impact our gay and transgender community,
and on how to improve outcomes for underserved and at-risk members of the
LGBTQIA+ population,” said County Executive Ball in his opening remarks in front of a
crowd that included members of the LGBTQ Workgroup, county employees, members of
the county’s Human Rights Commissioners and LGBTQ activists and allies as well
as elected officials, representatives and candidates.
He added, “The Commission will support, plan, and help
execute events, like PRIDE, to celebrate and affirm our community.”
The plan requires the approval of the county council and will be filed in July.
The commission will have the following responsibilities:
efforts to organize, educate, and mobilize the LGBTQIA+ community through
coalition building and coordination with allied individuals, groups and
best practices to affirm members of the gay and transgender community;
initiatives to support LGBTQIA+ families and children; and
the County on policy and programs that impact our gay and transgender
community, and on how to improve outcomes for underserved and at-risk members
of the LGBTQIA+ population.
plan, and execute events, like PRIDE, to celebrate and affirm the community.
Besides County Executive Ball, speakers at the event included Yolanda Sonier, Administrator of the Office of Human Rights and Equity; Byron Macfarlane, Register of Wills; Bob Ford, Howard County Human Rights Commission; Jumel Howard, President of PFLAG- Howard County and community member Vicki Weiss Vivrette.
Later that evening, the George Howard Building was bathed in rainbow-colored lights
The texts of Calvin Ball’s remarks as well as those from some of the other speakers are shown below.
Good morning and
It’s wonderful to
be here today, surrounded by friends and familiar faces. We’ve been through a
lot the past few years. The pandemic exacerbated a lot of the challenges
already present in our community...and we were in an environment where our
national leaders were fueling campaigns to make our LGBTQ residents feel like
tremendous obstacles—that, at times, seemed insurmountable, we’ve made progress
over the past few years to establish thoughtful, inclusive, and affirming
policies that allow all our residents to proudly be themselves and demonstrate
that Howard County is a community where everyone is welcome.
We’ve added a LGBTQ
liaison for our public school system and increased mental health funding to
support our students.
We hosted our first
ever PRIDE parade in 2019.
And today, we
continue to develop affirming resources for all our departments and service
providers – so that all our residents feel seen.
progress we’ve made here in Howard County, we’re seeing increasing attacks on
gay and transgender equality across our country – and it’s naïve to think that
those conversations will not impact our community.
offers many protections, it's legal in 29 states to fire employees just because
they’re gay, and in 35 states because they’re transgender.
It’s also legal in
these states to deny housing to gay and transgender people.
That makes our work
here even more important, to serve as a beacon and a model for othercommunities on how to protect the equality of all our residents, and how to be
inclusive and welcoming to all.
Which brings me to
why we’re here today...
legislation to PERMANENTLY establish our Howard County LGBTQ Workgroup as a
formal LGBTQIA+ Commission, with the recognition that we needed to include the
“I” for intersex, “A” for asexual and allies and the “+” to be a truly
inclusive Commission for all.
will help move Howard County forward and will:
* Identify best practices to affirm
members of the gay and transgender community;
* Recommend initiatives to support
LGBTQIA+ families and children; and
* Advise us on policy and programs that
impact our gay and transgender community, and on how to improve outcomes for
underserved and at-risk members of the LGBTQIA+ population.
Additionally, the Commission
will support, plan, and help execute events, like PRIDE, to celebrate and
affirm our community.
I’d like to thank
our Workgroup members, many who are here today, for your advocacy and work to
improve the lives of our neighbors, family, and friends.
Together, we take a
major step, and I am hopeful the County Council will pass this legislation to
make a positive, impactful difference in the lives of our LGBTQIA+ residents,
in our community and our world. Thank you.
–Dr. Calvin Ball, County Executive
Today is a great day for Howard County’s LGBTQIA+ community and,
indeed, for everyone who calls this county home. We’re here to celebrate the
introduction of legislation that will give our community a permanent seat at
the table and connect us in a lasting way with those who control the levers of
government in our county whose decisions have a direct impact on our lives.
Howard County and Maryland have always led the way on LGBTQ+ rights.
From Howard County’s anti-discrimination law passed many decades ago, to hate
crime and anti-discrimination laws at the state level, to Maryland becoming one
of the first states to pass marriage equality – not by judicial fiat – but by
popular vote. Our community and our allies have achieved so much, but we know
our hard-fought rights are under siege as we speak.
Every day, our community evolves and grows. We discover new ways to
understand ourselves and embrace living lives of honesty, authenticity, and
happiness. This is all our community has ever wanted – a chance to seek a life
of fulfillment and love without anyone putting barriers in our way. But as the
rainbow coalition of queer people grows, as we gain allies among our families,
friends, neighbors, and co-workers, there are forces at work, using more
extreme tactics and rhetoric to hold us back.
But this is not Texas. This is not Carroll County. This is Howard
County. Today, we are saying loud and clear that queer voices will be heard, we
will have our say in our government, and we will have a seat at the table. We
are sending a message, especially, to our young people, who need now more than
ever to hear from those of us in positions of leadership, that we see them and
will do everything we can to give them a safe, healthy, and nurturing
environment to grow and achieve their potential.
I’ve always been proud to be a lifelong Howard Countian. But I’m
especially proud today. Thank you to our County Executive for making this
timely commitment – both as we celebrate Pride Month, and as we see rising
hateful rhetoric in our country and in our county – and I am calling on all
five members of our County Council to pass this legislation unanimously, in a
bipartisan way, to make it absolutely clear that here, in this special place, every
life has value and meaning, and yes, love trumps hate.
I’m honored to be here today and to serve as
this county’s first openly LGBT+ elected official. I may be the first, but I
certainly will not be the last.
–Byron Macfarlane, Register of Wills and first openly
LGBTQ+ person to be elected in Howard County
Good morning. My name
is Bob Ford and my pronouns are he/him/his.
I am a commissioner on
the Howard County Human Rights Commission, a member of COVE—the Coalition Opposing
Violence and Extremism—and a member of the County Executive’s LGBTQ Workgroup.
We have recently
witnessed a disturbing and alarming uptick in anti-LGBTQ legislation and
incidents around the country. From a failed attempt to disrupt a Pride
celebration in Idaho, to storming into a drag queen storytelling session in
California, to over 200 bills in state legislatures aimed at stripping the
rights of LGBTQ people especially trans kids—these are wake-up calls.
Moreover, at one
political party’s convention in Texas this past weekend, language was added to
their platform that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice” and that party
opposes “all efforts to validate transgender identity.”
In neighboring Carroll
County, Pride flags in schools have been made illegal. Pride flags are being
burned in other parts of the state.
To be clear, Howard
County is not immune to anti-LGBTQ hate. As a commissioner on the Human Rights
Commission and Chair of the Hate Bias Committee, I’ve been made aware of an
increasing number of hate bias incidents. Unfortunately, privacy restrictions
prevent me from discussing them.
A welcoming sign that
featured a rainbow was chopped down and stolen from a Clarksville church.
We have seen a small
but vocal group of parents whose goal is to ban books in libraries and schools
that contain LGBTQ+ characters and themes, and push against any LGBTQ content
in the schools’ curricula.
The LGBTQ+ community
has made progress over the years but because of these distressing actions we
seem to be slipping back to the 1970s and 80s.
And lately the far right is using the word “groomers” to stoke more fear
of LGBTQ+ people. This rhetoric leads directly to the increase of hatred and
bullying in our schools and elsewhere, suicide as well as violence. We must be
ready to thwart these efforts and call out hate when we see it.
An LGBTQIA+ Commission
in Howard County would serve as a watchdog for these homophobic and transphobic
actions. We would inform the county government of the needs of the LGBTQ community
and make recommendations to the County Executive and Council for action if feasible.
Having an LGBTQ+ focus
as part of the county’s government would raise awareness and would hopefully
lead to measures to stem the tide of hate and inequality. Thank you.
–Bob Ford, Member of the Howard County Human Rights
Good morning everyone
I want to begin by thanking Dr. Ball and everyone else who has contributed to
forming this important commission on behalf of the LGBTQ community. The work of
this commission will help ensure a welcoming community for all of us in Howard
My name is Becki, and
I am married to my wife Kirsten. We live in Elkridge and together with our
co-parents raise two young boys and a rising college freshman. I am honored to
serve on this commission, alongside several other community members and friends
who have bravely advocated for the LGBTQ community, long before I ever came
out, and often in the face of significant hate and discrimination.
When I think of what
this commission and this work means to me, I think about the diversity of our
community, each of us having our own unique experiences, identities, and
What I hope to bring
to the work of this commission is my perspective as a woman, who is married to
another woman, and is parenting children in a blended family. What I hope to
elevate is a better understanding that our identities as parents are not just
about our sexual orientation, but sexual orientation is a key piece of our
identity that should be recognized.
It is about teaching
our children that love is love, that everyone deserves to give and receive
love, and that they deserve to hear and read stories about families that look
just like theirs. That our family should never feel ashamed for being proud of
who we are.
Having grown up in a
community that was not accepting or affirming, I know how important these
messages are to our youth and neighbors. I hope this commission can bring folks
together from all walks of life and encourage meaningful dialogue and progress.
Thanks again to everyone who worked so hard to make this possible. I look
forward to serving with you.
–Becki Weiss Vivrette, Community Member
In the LGBTQ
community, there is a sense of labeling us as other, but that’s not always
true. We’re your students and your teachers. We’re business owners, family
members, and friends. We’re in the community that you live in as well. At the end of the day,
we deserve to have not just a seat at the table, but our own table to sit at.
community like Howard County being able to provide the resources and support for
people in the LGBTQ community to build that table and have this Commission and
share what our actual concerns are with the community – rather than have the
community decide what to deal with regarding us – it’s a very different feeling
and a very positive feeling.”
– Jumel Howard, President of PFLAG Howard County.
As we close, Howard
County prides itself on embracing people from all walks of life and treating
them with dignity, respect, fairness and humanity. However, there is still progress to be made.
This was highlighted through the work of the
LGBTQ+ Workgroup on ways that Howard County can improve.
Personally, Working alongside the group
taught me so much about the diverse needs of this non-monolithic community and
I can say I’ve become a better ally and advocate.
The Office of Human Rights and Equity offers year-round
workshops about Humanity and Activism, and we often hear from the community “I
want to take action. But I don’t know where to begin.” And What can I do to be
a better ally? Well, here are a few
steps you can take:
and be open-minded.
inclusive. Don't make assumptions
people’s chosen pronouns.
and embody a spirit that all people should be treated equally, with dignity and
support this important legislation to ensure the voices of all our residents
are being heard, feel welcomed, protected and have equitable opportunities
Again, County Executive Ball thank you being a tireless
civil and human rights champion and for taking the 1st step to establish the
–Yolanda Sonnier, Office of Human Rights and Equity
|Photo courtesy of Howard County Government|