"We don't want to be special," said Howard resident Sharon Brackett, the co-chair of Gender Rights Maryland. "We want to be just like everyone else."
Sponsored by the council's four Democrats, the bill would ban discrimination in housing, employment, law enforcement and public accommodations against those whose gender identity might vary from their assigned sex at birth.
A Columbia-based organization, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, went to council members in July to create the bill. Organization members cited the lack of a statewide law and the attack on a Baltimore County transgender woman last spring as reasons to create a bill in Howard. Chrissy Lee Polis was beaten when she attempted to use the women's restroom at a Rosedale McDonald's. The incident was captured on a restaurant employee's cellphone and posted on YouTube, where it drew national attention.
Although many of the 70-plus people at the hearing wore purple in a show of support for the bill, several people stood up and spoke against it, citing concerns over "the bathroom issue" — transgender people using a bathroom assigned to the opposite sex.
Kathy Stefano, a Columbia resident, spoke out against the legislation, saying "it's not a well-written bill. It leave too many questions."
She raised concerns that the measure would allow men to enter women's bathrooms, fitting rooms and locker rooms.
If the council votes in favor of the bill, Howard would become the third jurisdiction in the state to bar discrimination against gender identity and expression. Baltimore City and Montgomery County already have similar laws in place.
A statewide bill was approved by the House but failed to get enough Senate votes last spring.
Del. Liz Bobo, who co-sponsored the state bill, submitted testimony in favor of the local measure.
"It is important that all people be protected from discrimination," she said in a statement.
"In the 1970s, Howard County was one of the first in the country to include gays and lesbians in our Human Rights Law. Now it is appropriate for our county to again be in the forefront on this human rights issue," she said in the statement.
The council is scheduled to vote on the bill Dec. 5.