Courting LGBT voters in Howard County [Commentary]

Republican Sen. Allan H. Kittleman has been regarded as a hero among LGBT folks throughout the state for bucking his party's positions and standing up forcefully to advance the cause of same-sex marriage. He had also been recognized as a stalwart supporter of non-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity. In doing so, he was the sole GOP Senator to speak out and vote for both pieces of legislation.

The Republican caucus in the Senate did not approve of his stands on these issues; consequently he relinquished the Senate Minority Leader post he held.


"Senator Allan Kittleman's support did not come without a cost; he lost his leadership position," said Carrie Evans, executive director for Equality Maryland, the state's largest LGBT civil rights organization. "He worked with the campaign to lend a Republican voice to the chorus of support for Question 6. His support allowed for more Republicans to come forward claiming marriage equality as a Republican value."

Kittleman, who is now seeking the County Executive post, has no regrets concerning his pro-LGBT views. "It is said of Robert Kennedy that he 'saw wrongs and tried to right them,' and I've tried to do the same," he explained referring to a Democratic icon."

Kittleman's opponent in the Howard County executive race is two-term Democratic Councilwoman Courtney Watson. Neither candidate is facing a primary challenge. But as much as Kittleman has earned praise from many LGBT people in the county and around the state, Watson has no intent to cede that demographic to her opponent knowing that every vote matters.

"We all celebrated the marriage victory in Maryland in 2012; it was a great day for something that was long overdue," Watson said. In fact, Howard County voted 59 to 41 percent in favor of marriage equality in the 2012 referendum.

Watson helped bring protections to transgender individuals as well. "When I learned about the difficulties facing a transgender classmate of my son's, I started working on a gender identity non-discrimination bill for Howard County and once we passed it in Howard in 2011, I took it to Baltimore County and shared it with my colleagues there who introduced and passed in 2012," Watson recalls. "I testified on the bill in Baltimore County and also at the state hearings two years in a row. With two more counties having successfully implemented this civil rights legislation, gender identity protections got much needed momentum in the General Assembly this year."

Regarded at one time as a swing county, Howard had been trending Democratic for over a decade, yet many project this to be a tight race. Estimates are that LGBT individuals represent 3 percent of the county's population, which translates into roughly 9,000 potential voters. When you add in families of LGBT people, friends, neighbors, co-workers and other supporters in this ever-widening circle, the amount of votes up for grab could be quite valuable and worth the effort for both candidates to woo.

No stranger to tight elections is openly gay Byron Macfarlane, who edged out four-term Republican incumbent Kay Hartleb in 2010 to become the county's Register of Wills.

"I endorse Courtney Watson for County Executive because of her support for marriage equality, her efforts during the marriage ballot referendum, her unparalleled leadership on championing gender identity protections," Macfarlane says enthusiastically.

Watson extols Howard County's strong record on LGBT rights. "I am proud that Howard County has led the way for LGBT issues in many ways, and as County Executive, I will continue to build a strong Howard County where all people are welcome and supported," she states.

"But this work isn't just about legislation; it's about creating a community of support and encouragement where all people can reach their full potential," Watson adds. "I am committed especially to provide the supports that can be lacking in some of our schools for children who are struggling. StandUpHoCo is a county anti-bullying initiative begun this year that I worked with Ken Ulman to fund and implement, and I will continue to expand this important program."

Kittleman points to his record on fairness as to why he should receive LGBT support. "As County Executive, I will ensure that Howard County continues to be a leader in the effort to treat all individuals, all families and all marriages equally," he says. "Discrimination and intolerance will not be condoned in my administration. Further, members of the LGBT community will always have a seat at the table in my administration. I will proactively reach out to the LGBT community to get their input on issues affecting Howard County."

Because both candidates have been so LGBT-supportive in Howard County, regardless of who comes out on top in November, LGBT folks and their allies stand to be winners as well.