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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Howard County Exec Announces Plans for LGBTQIA+ Commission

Under the “People’s Tree” near the Columbia lakefront, Howard County (MD) Executive Calvin Ball announced at a press conference on June 22 the filing of legislation that would permanently establish the current LGBT Workgroup as a formal LGBTQIA+ Commission.

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:

 ·         Support efforts to organize, educate, and mobilize the LGBTQIA+ community through coalition building and coordination with allied individuals, groups and organizations;

 ·         Identify best practices to affirm members of the gay and transgender community;

 ·         Recommend initiatives to support LGBTQIA+ families and children; and

 ·         Advise 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.

 ·         Support, 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 

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The texts of Calvin Ball’s remarks as well as those from some of the other speakers are shown below.

Good morning and happy PRIDE!

 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 second-class citizens.

 Despite these 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.

 Despite the progress we’ve made here in Howard County, we’re seeing increasing attacks on gay and transgender equality across our country – and it’s na├»ve to think that those conversations will not impact our community.

 While Maryland 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 other

communities 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...

 We’re filing 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.

 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.

 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

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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

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 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 Commission 

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 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 County.

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 perspectives.

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

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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. 

A 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.

 

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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:

 *          Listen and be open-minded.

 *          Be inclusive. Don't make assumptions

*          Honor people’s chosen pronouns.

*          Believe and embody a spirit that all people should be treated equally, with dignity and respect.

*          Lastly, 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 LGBTQIA+ Commission.

Yolanda Sonnier, Office of Human Rights and Equity Administrator


Photo courtesy of Howard County Government



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