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  •   Gov.'s Gay Rights Bid Has Family Ties

    Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning
    Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening holds a press briefing with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in January. (File photo by Gerald Martineau — The Washington Post)
    By Daniel LeDuc
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, March 9, 1999; Page A1

    They grew up together in Florida, but then the brothers' paths diverged.

    Parris N. Glendening went to college and graduate school. He moved to Maryland to teach at the university and eventually become governor.

    Bruce Glendening joined the Air Force, became a communications specialist, served three tours in Vietnam and, for a time, served aboard the fleet of Strategic Air Command bombers that constantly flew above the nation during the Cold War. That was an era of secrets: For the nation, it was defense strategies against the Soviets. For Bruce Glendening, it was his homosexuality, a secret that, if discovered, would have driven him from the military service he loved.

    Now, the governor is out to end the threat of discrimination his brother felt. Glendening (D), elected by a 10-point margin in November, is spending some of his political capital to lobby, aggressively and personally, for a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    It has become one of the most controversial and hard-fought legislative battles during this session of Maryland's General Assembly. But if Glendening is successful, his brother will not know Bruce Glendening died of AIDS in 1992.

    "His biggest regret was not that he was dying of AIDS," Glendening said of a visit he had with his brother shortly before his death, "but that during his tour of duty he was afraid he'd reveal his sexual orientation and be forced to leave the Air Force."

    The governor is not a naturally expressive person. But his adversaries and many who oppose the bill acknowledged a heartfelt sincerity to the lobbying Glendening is doing. He is meeting personally, one on one, with lawmakers, asking for their support and telling them, in his words, "Your governor needs this."

    "When somebody gives me personal testimony about their brother, it resonates with me. We're trying to accommodate the governor," said Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson (R-Carroll). But, he added, "I don't think we can."

    Ferguson said the bill puts too great an onus on small and medium business owners.

    "If a man showed up for work in a dress and if [his boss] fired him, he'd cry discrimination. The one or two militants who may want to press the hot buttons jeopardize the business owner," he said.

    Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties and Baltimore already have local laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation; Glendening helped push through the Prince George's ordinance while on the County Council in the early 1980s. But no statewide protections exist. If the legislation passes, Maryland would join 10 other states that have such laws, as does the District.

    The bill would authorize the Maryland Commission on Human Relations to investigate complaints about housing, employment and public accommodation discrimination based on sexual orientation. If the investigation determines there was a violation, the commission would negotiate a settlement or take the case to an administrative law judge who could impose fines.

    Based on the experience of the local jurisdictions, the commission expects to investigate as many as 100 allegations of sexual orientation discrimination in the state annually, said the commission's executive director, Henry B. Ford. But definitive statistics are hard to come by on how widespread the discrimination is.

    Advocates say that's because many who have suffered discrimination are reluctant to complain too loudly, lest they be subjected to further harassment.

    "People are coming up against real, blatant discrimination in all kinds of settings. What we experience is how blatant it is and how shameless people are in saying they discriminate against us," said Liz Seaton, executive director of the Free State Justice Campaign. "They'll say right to our faces, 'I won't rent you this apartment because you're a lesbian. I'm firing you because you're gay.'"

    For the past six years, Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Montgomery) has sponsored a similar bill to end discrimination, but it has always died in committee. Now, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a conservative Democrat from Western Maryland, has pledged his support for the proposal, and its chances look good in the House of Delegates.

    "The political climate in the state of Maryland has changed so that both [Glendening and Taylor] have felt freer to express the beliefs they've had," Hixson said.

    "It's the last vestige that's left in major violations of civil rights," said Del. Sharon Grosfeld (D-Montgomery), who is co-sponsoring the proposal. "We've addressed racial discrimination. We've addressed sex discrimination. But we've ignored real and fundamental problems faced by individuals with a sexual orientation different from heterosexual."

    Still, some opponents say the proposal carves out a special protection in the law that shouldn't exist as it does for race or sex.

    "Do we really think a tan or black skin color is the same as homosexuality?" said Sen. Alexander X. Mooney (R-Frederick). "You're born black or white. But are you born homosexual? To give skin color and a lifestyle choice equal protection in law is wrong."

    Glendening's proposal faces tough going in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which includes Mooney and Ferguson and is one of the most conservative in the legislature.

    Dozens of phone calls have flooded the committee's offices, said Chairman Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil), so many that aides have set up a special voice mailbox to accommodate them. Baker said 95 percent of the callers opposed the bill.

    Another committee member, Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), said that he had been lobbied by Glendening but nevertheless was leaning toward voting against the bill and that virtually all phone calls to his office urged him to oppose it.

    "You can empathize with the governor in that situation when he describes his brother's last days," he said. "I just don't believe the bill is necessary. It's a little different than race and religion. I'm not certain that [homosexuality is] not a learned lifestyle."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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