I recently read an article in the Blade (“Maryland Senate Kills Trans Bill”) about the failure of Maryland’s Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination bill that quotes Sen. Brian Frosh, chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“I’m sorry that it lost,” Frosh told the Blade about the bill. He then claimed Equality Maryland was wrong, and that there were not sufficient votes for the bill on the floor. As icing on the cake, the Bethesda senator said he is “doubtful that supporters would be able to line up the four votes they need to pass the bill next year.”
As the former executive director of Equality Maryland, I have lobbied for many years in Annapolis on LGBT issues, which included many meetings with Sen. Frosh that left me profoundly frustrated at his inability to fundamentally understand the hardships facing transgender Marylanders. Lest there be a lack of clarity on the matter, let me state my opinion regarding Sen. Frosh’s comments, and the Blade’s characterization of Frosh as a “supporter of the bill.” I do so at risk to my own future access to his office when I have the occasion to lobby in Annapolis again.
Were Sen. Frosh truly sorry about the failure of this legislation, he would not be nailing its coffin shut for the 2012 legislative session when we haven’t even given it a proper burial in 2011. Everyone with an inside track to Annapolis knows that arms were twisted to recommit the bill back to committee — and that many of those votes to recommit the bill were from senators who would have voted to pass the measure if it had been given an honest up or down vote.
Since I began lobbying on gender identity issues nine years ago in Annapolis, Sen. Frosh has been an obstacle to legally enacting anti-violence and anti-discrimination protections for transgender Marylanders, but an obstacle that always assigns the blame for inaction elsewhere. This began with his repeated opposition to adding “gender identity” to the state’s hate crimes law. Sen. Frosh disliked the very concept of hate crimes laws, but particularly disliked the idea of moving the measure with gender identity included alongside sexual orientation. Equality Maryland refused to move a sexual orientation-only hate crimes measure, and the bill finally passed in 2005 after years of painstaking effort.
Sen. Frosh was even less enthusiastic about having the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination bill in his committee, and he has come up with more reasons for disliking the bill than I could possibly recount here. For years, Equality Maryland brought transgender people, their friends and family in to his office to tell their stories. We facilitated meetings with the best transgender legal experts in the country to educate him. Clergy and constituents were dispatched to communicate with him.
In 2009, Equality Maryland also put tremendous pressure on Sen. Frosh not to bottle the bill up in committee without a vote. Take the vote, we told him, and if it fails, it fails. Sen. Frosh allowed a voice vote that year in committee on “unfavorably” reporting the bill. An unfavorable report would have meant the bill died. The voice vote on the unfavorable report failed — in other words, there were not enough votes to kill the bill in committee. But Sen. Frosh refused to allow the measure to come for a “favorable” report, which could have moved the bill out of committee if the votes were there. Did we have the votes that year? We will never know for sure, just like we’ll never know what would have happened had the bill had an honest up or down vote on the floor this year.
Sen. Frosh is from liberal Bethesda, where the vast majority of voters would support a basic anti-discrimination bill that would help people keep their jobs and housing. After all, Montgomery County has a transgender anti-discrimination law in place, and it even includes public accommodation protections that legislators like him so fear addressing. I know Equality Maryland kept up the same pressure this year on Sen. Frosh — pressure that helped move the bill out of the Rules Committee and out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. And Sen. Frosh again this year used backroom maneuvering to thwart this anti-discrimination bill while casting his vote the right way, rather than simply coming out of his closet against the measure and using his skills as a lawyer to argue to his constituents about why he so vociferously opposes this law.
Sen. Frosh is entrenched in his district, and political insiders often say he would like to be Senate president when that fabled time arrives that Senate President Mike Miller steps down. His comments in the Blade indicate that he is unwilling to use the considerable influence he possesses to end discrimination against transgender people. His failure to do so is inexplicable, given the pragmatic, progressive legislation that he has championed on other issues. I fear where this leaves the LGBT community in our quest to enact this legislation into law.