With a decisive 5-2 vote by the Baltimore County Council on Tuesday evening, Baltimore County became the fourth jurisdiction in Maryland protecting residents against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression and sexual orientation in the areas of housing, employment, public accommodations, and financing. Howard County, Montgomery County and Baltimore City already have similar protections in place.

Over 2.5 million Marylanders now enjoy these protections, with 1 million gaining them in just the past 3 months.

The bill (3-12) was initiated by Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) Baltimore County and Gender Rights Maryland (GRMD), an organization dedicated to enacting similar statewide protections.

“This is a great day for Baltimore County” said Mark Patro, Chapter President of PFLAG Baltimore County in a press release. “Despite pressure from opposition groups, the County Council was able to look past the rhetoric of fear and do the right thing by securing these critical civil rights for all residents of Baltimore County.”

“Our success here in Baltimore County, and a few months ago in Howard County, is a testament to the forward thinking of our local elected officials,” said Sharon Brackett, Board Chair for Gender Rights Maryland. “We would like to thank the entire Council for having the courage to pass this legislation and, in particular, Councilmember Tom Quirk for being a steadfast champion for passage of this bill. In the past 6 months we have collectively brought these protections to over one million more Marylanders. This should be a strong message to Annapolis that it is time to lead the rest of the state on this matter.”

For his part, Councilmember Quirk posted these words of appreciation on Gender Rights Maryland’s Facebook page:

Gender Rights Maryland and PFLAG – Thank you very much for all your help and support. I’ll share a foxhole with all of you any day. Your advocacy, energy and engagement helped a ton. Thanks also for your kind words. I was walking down Frederick Road this morning in Catonsville and couldn’t help but feel that this day was a beautiful and calm day. I was also encouraged yesterday when I was meeting with most of the religious leaders in Catonsville and they all 100% supported the bill and would help get the good word out to their congregations. Keep pushing! Hopefully the State of Maryland will pass similar legislation. I truly have admired your courage and strength in the face of some exceptionally tough opponents.

Annapolis next stop for the passage of a statewide law (SB 212)? Maryland’s Gov. Martin O’Malley has declared that “The gender identity bill is a legislative priority!” for him.

A statewide bill is vitally needed to protect Marylanders living outside the I-95 corridor, GRMD’s executive director Dana Beyer told Metro Weekly. Almost half of the state’s population lives outside the protected jurisdictions.

The Baltimore County bill now goes to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is expected to sign it.