Baltimore Co. panel to study bias against homosexuals

December 18, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore County's revamped Human Relations Commission is planning two public hearings to help it determine if discrimination against lesbians and homosexuals should be banned under county law.

The County Council refused to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in enacting legislation that created a new and stronger Human Relations Commission in September 1989 to replace an inactive commission. The council left the issue for the revised commission.

The old 11-member county Community Relations Commission had not met in two years, had no paid staff or subpoena powers and was virtually defunct when former County Executive Dennis Rasmussen named a new, larger body with subpoena powers in November 1989.

Commission Director John S. Singleton, a lawyer, said the year-old, 15-member body is ready to study the sexual-orientation issue. Almost all the complaints to the county commission so far involve either sexual discrimination and/or harassment of women, or racial discrimination, Singleton said.

Public hearings on the gay-lesbian issue have been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9 at Randallstown High, 4000 Offutt Road, and Feb. 7 at Perry Hall High, 4601 Ebenezer Road. Singleton said the commission would then meet, perhaps in early spring, and make a recommendation to the council.

In Baltimore, where discrimination against homosexuals is already illegal, the Community Relations Commission has received 13 complaints in the year from October 1989 to October 1990, according to a spokesman. So far in 1990, the city commission has handled a total of 201 complaints of all forms of discrimination.

That's about double the pace of complaints the county commission is getting, Singleton said. The county commission members were named to their posts only 13 months ago, and it took about six months to organize, the director said. Now, with one full-time and one part-time investigator and Singleton as part-time director, the commission is fielding an average of eight complaints a month, he said.

Because county law requires that investigations into all cases be completed within six months, Singleton said, he is asking for one more investigator in next year's budget.

Jennifer Burdick, director of the state Human Relations Commission, said about 25 percent of state cases come from Baltimore County residents, a proportion unchanged since the county commission was created.

In November, for example, she said, the state received 80 complaints, and 22 came from Baltimore County residents.

The state commission has experienced a sharp increase in the number of cases during the past two years, with 1,200 in the fiscal year ending June 30, she said. Burdick said she expects the state, with 21 investigators, to receive 1,350 new cases during the current fiscal year. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not specifically banned under state law, she said.

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