A time to heal HOWARD COUNTY

December 22, 1992

Human rights commissions are meant to heal wounds in the community, not infect them.

Someone should tell that to the Howard County Human Rights Commission, whose members are again proving that they are no better at setting an example for appropriate behavior than some of the more base and hate-filled groups in society.

The latest evidence of the commission's failure to get along came during the selection of Jan Nyquist, a lesbian activist, to chair the group. Ms. Nyquist won her spot by a 5-3 margin, but not before a conservative faction on the commission nominated Robert Birdsong as an alternative candidate.

For some on the commission, any candidate was preferable to Ms. Nyquist. At one point there was even discussion of floating a third "compromise" candidate for the chairman's post. That effort and the one to appoint Mr. Birdsong all failed, perhaps the only redeeming thing that can be said about this mess.

But many questions remain even after Ms. Nyquist's appointment. Part of the problem is that the group opposing her has been less than candid about its reasons. A pattern, however, is developing that suggests that certain commissioners suffer from the same homophobic bias that afflicts so many in our society. If that is the case, they have no business sitting on a commission that is supposed to protect the civil rights of all minorities and groups stung by discrimination.

Also, it hasn't helped matters that Roger Jones, a liberal and perhaps the most vocal of commission members, has chosen to hurl nasty accusations at his opponents.

Mr. Jones may be right that some commissioners showed a lack of commitment to human rights several months ago, when they refused to adopt a resolution supporting the appointment of a gay person to the commission. But his referring to other commissioners as "gutless, spineless snivelers" is not the kind of thoughtful expression people expect from a human rights commissioner.

Finally, we hope that Ms. Nyquist's appointment signals that the commission is about to take a more pro-active approach toward fostering equality in the county. That would be a very positive step.

First, however, the commission must set an example by healing the rift that so deeply divides it.

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