Baltimore County

Balto. Co. Council may strip bathrooms from transgender bill

After hearing hours of testimony on a bill to ban discrimination against transgender people, Baltimore County Council members said Tuesday they would consider exempting public restrooms and locker rooms from the measure.

Restrooms have emerged as a hot-button issue in the county's debate over the bill. At public hearings, the bill's opponents have said they fear that if the law is passed, men would sexually assault women in restrooms.


Supporters of the legislation say places with transgender laws have never reported such incidents, and accuse opponents of using the bathroom issue as a distraction. The bill would add gender identity to existing county laws that prohibit discrimination in housing, workplaces, and public places.

Four of the council's seven members have signed on to the proposed amendment, which says the law wouldn't apply to public places "that are designated for male or female use, such as restrooms, bath houses, locker rooms, dressing rooms, changing rooms, and similar facilities." The sponsors are: Democrat Cathy Bevins of Middle River, Republican Todd Huff of Lutherville, Republican David Marks of Perry Hall, and Democrat John Olszewski Sr. of Dundalk.


A vote on the bill and amendments is set for next week. Other proposed amendments would exempt certain institutions, including religious ones, from the law, and would allow employers to require that workers "adhere to reasonable workplace appearance, grooming, and dress standards" as long as the employer allows employees to dress as the gender with which they identify.

More than 60 people testified at the council meeting. Supporters of the bill told stories of being fired from their jobs or physically attacked because they are transgender. Several parents testified about their children coming out as transgender.

Mara Drummond of Catonsville held up a laptop playing a video of the April 2011 attack on Chrissy Lee Polis, a transgender woman who was beaten when she tried to use the bathroom at a Rosedale McDonald's.

"I want this image to be in your head when you give people the power to police what bathrooms other people use," Drummond said.

Some opponents cited their religious beliefs for being against the bill. Some said it could spur lawsuits against businesses, while others said it would lead to men preying on women in public restrooms.

Catonsville resident Allison Baird spoke against the measure, calling it "a safety issue."

"I am a mother of two girls, soon to be three, and I have to tell you that this makes me very nervous," she said.

The bill has four sponsors on the council: Catonsville Democrat Tom Quirk, who introduced it last month; Bevins; Randallstown Democrat Kenneth Oliver; and Reisterstown Democrat Vicki Almond, who is chairwoman of the panel.


Bevins said that she knows that many transgender people use public restrooms now, and it doesn't bother her, but that she has received many concerned phone calls and emails from constituents.

"I hate it that it's boiled down to being called 'the bathroom bill,' " Bevins said.

Olszewski said the proposed amendment would address some people's worries.

"If your human anatomy is male, you should go to the [men's] room," he said. "It's a tough issue, but I've heard enough testimony of the public being concerned about it."

Huff said that he would not support the bill without changes, but would consider voting for it if amended.

He said that as a businessman, he is concerned about "frivolous lawsuits" against businesses regarding bathrooms, and that the proposed amendment alleviates that concern.


Marks said he is "prepared to vote for the legislation if it addresses the concerns many of my constituents have ... including protections for businesses and a clear exemption for religious institutions and religious-based schools."