When a television camera panned around the hearing room of the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon one spectator, a woman about 35, put her head down, hoping she would not be recognized on tonight's evening news program.
She had come here to testify in behalf of a bill that would prohibit discrimination against homosexuals in employment, but because she is a lesbian who has suffered job discrimination, she was scared off by the television camera did not testify.
Instead, she handed her prepared statement to Gail Vivino, a member of the Baltimore Gay Alliance, who read it as the woman, a nurse, sat with her lover in the audience.
The nurse's testimony was one of three examples of discrimination in employment related by avowed homosexuals at today's hearing. Although no one spoke against the bill, Committee Chairman Joseph E. Owens (D-Montgomery) said he was "unconvinced" by the testimony. He predicted that the committee, which rejected a similar proposal last year, again will not pass it.
The nurse on anonymity because of her present employer does not know she is a homosexual. In her statement, she said she and her lover had worked together at a Baltimore nursing home for three months, until their relationship was reported by a coworker.
The administrator transferred her lover, a nurse's aide, to another unit, and banned the women from meeting for lunch, coffee breaks, or even speaking to each other during working hours.
A month later, the women were fired, with the administrator telling them their "relationship" was the reason, even though "we didn't flaunt our gay life-style on the job."
Another witness, Bob Marx, said he was fired Feb. 18 by the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. as "unsuitable," after working there eight years. He said his homosexuality had been unknown to his employer and coworkers until about a year ago, after which his foreman "harassed me and made me the butt of jokes." At first his coworkers defended him, but as time passed they too joined in with the jokes, Marx said.
James J. Armstrong testified that he was hired by the Post Office in Baltimore as a clerk on March 31, 1962, and "maintained an unblemished work record for seven years." Then, in March, 1969, he was notified that he was being discharged for his homosexuality.
Armstrong fought the dismassal in court, I didn't have the right to live, which had a devastating effect on me," Armstrong told the committee. "As a result, I was unable to work the entire four years. I lived on welfare and food stamps, unable to afford the psychiatric help I desperately needed and which might have made buildig a new life possible.
He returned to his job at the Post Office in June, 1973, and also began psychiatric therapy that already has cost him $25,000, he said.
Armstrong urged passage of the bill "so that we may have protection under the law of our right to support ourselves."
Several witnesses said "sexual orientation" is established by the time a child is 5-year-old, and Nancy Gross, representing Parents of Gay Men and Women of Baltimore, said she believes homosexuality derives "presumably from genetic factors."
Mrs. Gross said her daughter didn't affirm he homosecuality until she was in college, "but when she was 9, she just didn't feel the way girls her own age did. There was a growing sense of alienation."
Joseph D. Tasher Jr., legal action chairperson of the Baltimore Gay Alliance, told committee members some homesexuals with "responsible positions" did not testify "because they are afraid. You may wonder where they are? They are, perhaps, next door, being very quiet."
In answer to a question by Del. Arthur G. Murphy Sr. (D-Baltimore) about alleged promiscuity among homosexuals - "in street talk, do they hit on everyone?" - Tasher said, "I consider myself a moral person and my friends are moral. We do not press ourselves on others."
The committee, considered the most conservative in the House of Delegates, is unlikely to approve the legislation, called by its sponsor, Del. Bert Booth (R-Baltimore County) "a right-to-work bill, a civil rights bill."
Del. Joel Chasnoff (D-Montgomery) said he will vote for the proposal, but said it "probably has about five votes" on the 23-member committee.
Del. Elmer F. Hagner Jr. (D-Anne Arundel) said legislators are "reluctant to open the door" to employment of homosexuals in education, nursing and several other fields. "It won't pass," he said.
Another opponent, Del. Andrew J. Burns (D-Baltimore) repeatedly questioned proponents about his concerns about homosexual teachers, police officers, nurses and even bartenders.
"Would you force the owner of a redneck bar to hire a homosexual bartender? Burns asked Dale Balfour, president of the League of Women Voters. "You are not concerned about being examined in a hospital by a lesbian?" he went on.
Balfour, and representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, National Organization of Women the state medical society, social workers association and spokespersons for several gay activist organizations, all supported the bill.