Human Rights Dispute: Having It Both Ways?

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

February 21, 1993

I am responding to a letter on your "Howard Viewpoints" page dated Jan. 24, entitled "Behind the Human Rights Dispute." In keeping with the purpose of "Viewpoints," I offer the following:

As a former chair of the Howard County Human Rights Commission, and as one of many who have attempted to protect the human rights of all citizens, I find myself under constant attack.

Commission member Robert Birdsong is currently continuing in his attempt to have it both ways. While outwardly professing to "pledge his full support" to Chairwoman Jan Nyquist, I have been told that several commissioners . . . met with the county executive following the nominating committee report that recommended Ms. Nyquist for chair.

I was told that at that meeting an effort was made to undermine the process of electing Ms. Nyquist to be chairwoman. If such a meeting was actually held, and if an attempt was made to interfere with the election process of the Human Rights Commission, then I believe true "reprehensible behavior" has occurred. In any event, we do know for a fact that Mr. Birdsong was nominated from the floor in direct opposition to the nominating committee report. There is no doubt that sexual orientation is and will continue to be a hotly debated issue.

Mr. Birdsong asserts "there is no role for the Human Rights Commission to play" during the appointment process. His statement is totally untrue. Section 12.202 (IX) of the Howard County Code clearly authorizes the commission to recommend civil rights policy to the county executive. Furthermore, the commission is authorized to promote human rights in every way possible. Lastly, such a statement blatantly contradicts the role of a democracy.

Mr. Birdsong asserts that I "resigned the chairmanship" because things didn't go my way. In reality, I resigned the chairmanship because I was ashamed to be chair, and at the same time afraid to resign knowing how some commissioners felt relative to gay and lesbian rights.

Mr. Birdsong attempts to explain his vote regarding gay rights and again is caught trying to have it both ways. It is true that his statement "by way of background" included a unanimous vote in support of a gay or lesbian commissioner. However, he omits the bruising battle that was fought to gain unanimity. The only other time I fought so hard was in the Demilitarized Zone in Vietnam in 1967.

On July 30, 1992, Mr. Birdsong stated to the Columbia Flier he voted against the resolution simply because he did not feel it was the commission's task to suggest appointments.

When Mr. Birdsong was interviewed later by The Baltimore Sun, his story was changed to assert that another vote would have been "redundant." He omitted that he made the statement that he was sorry he voted for the first resolution supporting gays and lesbians as commissioners. . . .

I believe there has been an attempt to smear me -- accusing me of saying the county executive was anti-gay rights because he refused to appoint Bob Healy. I recall telling the county executive I believed he had discriminated against Mr. Healy, because the county policy states all persons shall have an equal opportunity to pursue their lives free of discrimination.

The county executive was quoted as saying a gay commissioner would be too controversial. As chairperson, I was placed on a collision course with the county executive and many of his

supporters. If I had not been chair, I would have still responded in the same manner. . . . Mr. Birdsong is a lawyer and is quite adept at attempting to lay out his version of the full story. I am attempting to get the "true" story out relative to the dispute that rages among some human rights commissioners.

Frankly, I had thought that we as commissioners had put this issue behind us. Clearly, I have been provoked and apparently while a scab had formed over my wound, Mr. Birdsong's wound apparently continues to fester.

. . . If Mr. Birdsong resigns with a pledge to remain off of the commission, I too will resign the moment he does. I believe these two resignations will ensure an attempt to improve human rights throughout the county. I also believe the remaining commissioners, some of who followed Mr. Birdsong's lead, would then have a chance to truly become more productive.

In closing, if I offended anyone by my defensive tactics, I did not intend to be hurtful. We are locked in a difficult struggle, a struggle I believe is only beginning. As a combat Marine, I always think back to an old Marine adage: When you're up to your neck in alligators, you tend to forget that your primary mission was to drain the swamp.

There is no room for any bigotry within the ranks of the Human Rights Commission.

Roger W. Jones

Columbia

The writer is a member and former chairman of the Howard County Human Rights Commission.

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