April 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Maryland Senate kills trans rights bill

Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), a supporter of the trans rights bill, disagreed with those who accuse Senate President Mike Miller of orchestrating the measure's defeat. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A gay member of the Maryland State Senate issued a strongly worded statement criticizing his colleagues for voting 27-20 on Monday to send a transgender non-discrimination bill back to committee, an action that killed the bill for the year.

Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), one of the lead sponsors and longtime supporters of the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act, known as HB 235, joined LGBT activists in expressing outrage over the Senate’s action.

“Every homeless transgender person that dies on the street will do so because of the Senate’s failure to pass HB 235,” Madaleno said in a statement released late Monday.

“Every transgender individual who cannot provide for themselves or their family because they are denied employment based on their gender identity will do so because of the Senate’s failure to pass HB 235,” he said.

The bill, which calls for banning discrimination against transgender people in the areas of employment, housing and credit, including bank loans, had been approved last month in the state’s House of Delegates by a vote of 86 to 52.

Initial head counts of senators led supporters to believe they had the votes to pass the measure in the Senate. But activists working with the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland said that, to their great disappointment and surprise, as many as seven Democrats backed off from earlier commitments to vote for the bill.

Of the 27 senators voting to send the bill back to committee, 16 were Democrats and 11 were Republicans. Democrats hold a 35 to 12 majority in the Senate.

Of the 20 voting against the motion to send the bill to committee, 19 were Democrats. Just one Republican, LGBT rights supporter Allan Kittleman of Howard and Carroll Counties, voted against the motion to send the bill back to committee.

“Of the ones that voted to recommit, there were at least seven that we felt had committed to us that they were going to support this and then they backed out,” said Dana Beyer, a Montgomery County transgender activist and former House of Delegates candidate who worked closely with Equality Maryland to lobby for the bill.

“It’s always a guess,” said Beyer, when asked why supporters turned against the bill. “It’s shocking because we didn’t expect this. There are a thousand ways to kill a bill. This is one way to do it and I have to lay it at the hands of the Senate leadership.”

Beyer and others familiar with the bill said they believe Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties), orchestrated the bill’s demise.

Miller was among the senators who voted for the motion to recommit the bill to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which voted 7-4 one day earlier to approve the bill and send it to the Senate floor.

Miller did not return a call seeking comment as of press time on Wednesday.

Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a supporter of the bill who voted against sending it back to committee, disagreed with those who blame Miller for killing the bill.

“I’m sorry that it lost,” Frosh told the Blade in an interview Tuesday. “But I think the president said a week ago publicly, and he had been saying all session, that there aren’t the votes on the Senate floor to pass it. And he was right.”

Added Frosh: “There were 20 votes for the bill. You need 24. And it’s a shame, but it’s a fact of life.”

According to Frosh, Equality Maryland has repeatedly miscalculated the vote count on the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act this year and in previous years, when the bill died in committee.

Frosh said he is doubtful that supporters would be able to line up the four votes they need to pass the bill next year.

Beyer disputes Frosh’s assessment, saying that Equality Maryland and others obtained clear commitments from senators who voted to send the transgender bill back to committee on Monday.

“It wasn’t just Equality Maryland that was doing the vote count,” she said. “There was a coalition of people that had personal relationships with various senators who got commitments from those senators.”

Miller, for reasons not fully understood by the bill’s supporters, “twisted arms” to get Democratic senators supportive of the bill to vote for the motion to recommit to committee, Beyer said. She said she and others associated with Equality Maryland confirmed this from reliable sources close to the Senate that she declined to identify due to promises of confidentiality.

Miller became the target of an aggressive campaign by Equality Maryland and a coalition of transgender activists and allies organized by Beyer after he diverted the bill to the Senate Rules Committee following its approval by the House of Delegates.

The Rules Committee has long been viewed as a “graveyard” for bills out of favor with the Senate leadership. Activists backing the bill viewed Miller’s decision to single out the transgender bill for diversion to the Rules Committee while clearing dozens of other bills for the normal route to standing committees as an attempt to kill the bill.

But in a development that Annapolis political observers viewed as rare, Miller backed down amid a barrage of e-mails and phone calls to his office and to the offices of other senators demanding that the bill be released to the Judicial Proceedings Committee for a vote.

The Judicial Proceedings panel voted April 8, following a 90-minute debate, to approve the bill and send it to the Senate floor. The committee’s action led supporters to believe they had a fighting chance to see it through a full Senate vote.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Equality Maryland’s executive director, said she was especially disappointed that several senators that voted to recommit the bill to committee on Monday had assured the group of their support for the measure.

“I wish I had a why,” she said. “This means that we really need to examine our steps moving forward. But I must emphasize that we got so far this year,” she added, noting that the bill was killed in committee for the past four years without ever reaching the floor of the Senate or House.

“We are thankful to every legislator who did do the right thing,” she said. “We are so thankful to every constituent who wrote a letter and made a phone call, and especially to the transgender people of Maryland who came out and told their stories, who shared their very personal need for job and housing protections.”

“We will continue to fight every day. We will continue to analyze how we can get these important protections in place. But we are shocked and frankly appalled by this action today,” she added.

The vote by the Senate came on the last day of the Maryland Legislature’s 2011 session and followed less than 15 minutes of debate.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County) asked whether the bill would have an impact on private citizens seeking to choose a roommate in a private home. Muse also asked whether the bill’s proposed ban on employment discrimination would force the Boy Scouts organization to hire a transgender person or prevent any employer from establishing a dress code.

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), one of the lead sponsors and supporters of the bill served as floor manager for what was expected to be a lengthy Senate floor debate. Raskin told Muse the bill would not cover people in private homes looking for roommates.

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“If you’re looking for a roommate, you can discriminate on any basis you want,” he said.

Raskin said the bill would cover the Boy Scouts organization for employment purposes, but said a transgender person seeking a job with the Boy Scouts would have to meet all other requirements for the job, including appropriate dress codes. He said the Boy Scouts, like any other employer, could not refuse to hire someone solely because of their status as a transgender person under the bill’s provisions.

Immediately after Muse and Raskin completed their exchange, Sen. James DeGrange (D-Anne Arundel County) offered a motion to recommit the bill to committee.

“I respect the work the committee’s done on this bill,” he said. “I know there’s a huge concern in this body toward this. To that I’d like to move that the bill be re-referred back to committee.”

Raskin and Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City) rose to oppose the motion, urging their colleagues to give supporters a chance to vote on the bill.

“It’s been way whittled down,” said Raskin in describing how the bill’s public accommodations provision was removed by House supporters to ease concerns by lawmakers hesitant to vote for the bill.

“This is just about giving people the right to live someplace and the right to earn a living,” he said.

Miller, presiding over the Senate, then called for a recorded roll-call vote on the motion. When the Senate chamber’s electronic board showed the motion had passed by a 27-20 vote, expressions of shock could be heard in the chamber, especially by supporters seated in the visitors gallery.

The bill’s defeat represented a victory for an odd coalition of opponents.

A faction of transgender activists, led by the group Trans Maryland, called on the Senate to kill the bill because it did not go far enough. The group said a decision to take out a provision protecting transgender persons from public accommodations discrimination – which includes stores, hotels and public bathrooms, among other places – made the bill unacceptable.

The bill’s supporters said they reluctantly agreed to a decision by the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties), to remove a public accommodations provision from the previous year’s version of the bill. Pena-Melnyk said doing so was the only way the measure could have cleared a House committee and have any chance of passing either body.

The anti-LGBT group Maryland Citizens for A Responsible Government led efforts among conservative religious and political groups to oppose the bill on grounds that no transgender civil rights protections should be enacted. The group’s leader, physician Ruth Jacobs, organized telephone and e-mail campaigns targeting lawmakers that vowed to bring the issue up in the next election.

The transgender bill’s defeat followed by a little more than a month the defeat in the Maryland Legislature of a same-sex marriage bill that drew national media coverage. In what some in the LGBT community have viewed as an ironic twist, the marriage bill died after the Senate approved it and the House of Delegates sent it back to committee rather than take a full up or down vote on the measure.

In the case of the marriage bill, a coalition of LGBT groups, including Equality Maryland, favored sending it back to committee after determining they did not have the votes in the House to pass it and it would be better to avoid a losing vote.

Some in the LGBT community disagreed with that decision. But in the case of the transgender bill, nearly all of its supporters, including Equality Maryland, wanted the Senate to vote on the measure.

Beyer said her sources close to the Senate believe it would have passed had Miller and the Senate leadership agreed to allow it to come up for a full vote.

“He twisted enough arms to send it back to committee but he couldn’t get enough people to vote no on the bill itself,” she said. “That’s what we’re being told by people in the know.”

Madeleno could not be immediately reached to determine if he agrees with Beyer’s assessment of Miller’s role in the bill’s defeat.

But Annapolis observers believe Madaleno made it clear in the strongly worded statement he released on Monday that he was angry at Miller, even though he did not mention the Senate president by name.

“I am extremely disappointed by the Senate’s action today to send HB 235 back to the Judicial Proceedings Committee,” Madaleno said in the statement.

“The twisted and unfair process HB 235 had to go through to even make it to the Senate floor mars the Senate’s otherwise outstanding work this year,” he said. “The Senate’s treatment of this legislation will be remembered for a long time by the LGBT community and Marylanders who believe in equal rights for all.”

Madaleno said he plans to introduce a new version of the bill next year that will include a public accommodations provision.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Equality Maryland has gone from being a leadership driven organization to an ineffectual one. The defeat of same gender marriage, orchestrated by national LGBT groups with no understanding of Maryland politics to which Equality Maryland witlessly collaborated, followed by this lame attempt at appeasing a tiny group of people (transgenders who mostly pass and mostly don’t face any kind of discrimination) is a good example of Equality Maryland making the perfect the enemy of the good. Maybe a few more defeats, and the staff and board will resign so new real leadership can come back in.

  • Hey Washington Blade: check your facts. I double dog dare you to find one transgender human being denied employment by the Boy Scouts. You probably can’t. I don’t think transgendered are denied BSA membership. In fact, I know a Scout volunteer who is openly transgendered here in Maryland.

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