Bangor City Council Chairperson Clare Davitt is shown in November 2019. The Bangor City Council is considering an expansion of the city's anti-discrimination protections to bar discrimination based on people's gender identity. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The Bangor City Council could soon bar discrimination against people based on their gender identity in areas such as employment, education and housing, giving more comprehensive protections than the federal government currently does.

Since 2001, the city has had an anti-discrimination ordinance that protects people based on their sexual orientation, but it did not have specific protections for people based on their gender identity.

That could soon change after City Council Chairperson Clare Davitt asked the city’s legal department to review Bangor’s anti-discrimination measures and draft additional protections for people based on their gender identity. Councilors have now passed two preliminary votes supporting the additional protections, including during a first reading this week and during a committee meeting last week.

The measure will still need at least one more vote to pass. In both meetings, it has been unanimously supported and received little discussion.

“As court cases and as law has progressed, both sexual orientation and to some extent gender identity is now covered,” City Solicitor Paul Nicklas said during the committee meeting, referring to federal protections against discrimination. “But it’s a little haphazard, and so this would be more comprehensive.”

In an interview, Nicklas said he was not aware of any specific complaints of discrimination based on gender identity in Bangor that prompted the proposed rules. The proposed changes would add the phrase “gender identity” throughout the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, including in sections that prohibit discrimination by landlords renting out apartments, people selling houses, employers hiring for jobs, lenders extending credit or schools offering a variety of programs.

The ordinance would include exemptions for religious organizations and specifically notes that it doesn’t apply to state and federal programs, including public universities. It would not require affirmative action for people based on gender identity or require any particular subject to be taught in schools.

The Maine Human Rights Act also protects individuals from discrimination based on gender identity in many of the same areas, but Nicklas was not immediately sure whether the city’s protections would be similar or greater in scope if they are passed.

“In some ways this might seem like really small steps, but it’s really huge and means a lot to have it updated and relevant and protecting people in all different ways,” said Davitt, who publicly identifies as queer and has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community. On her Facebook page, she added that “It’s something that has been a long time coming but had dropped through the cracks.”

The new protections would be part of a larger set of changes that Bangor city officials have recently been making or considering to protect underrepresented groups. Late last year, the city eliminated a dated — but seemingly never enforced — rule that banned most stores from carrying magazines, books and other publications that featured images of homosexuality on their outside covers.

The council will also soon vote on whether to create a new advisory committee for diversity, equity and inclusion that would include seats specifically reserved for people from the LGBTQ community, the Penobscot Nation, the NAACP and faith-based groups.

Davitt said that the city has also changed the forms it uses for families to request birth certificates to say “Parent 1” and “Parent 2,” rather than “Father’s name” and “Mother’s name.” It made that change after Davitt was approached by a resident shortly after she was first elected in 2017.

“Words matter,” Davitt said on Facebook. “Representation matters.”