The transgender community may have lost a battle for civil rights when the Maryland Senate adjourned for 2011, but we gained something much more important in the long run — respect.
On Monday morning, as the Senate went into session, I noticed a difference in Annapolis. People paid attention to us. Normally the legislators and lobbyists work in silos, attentive to their pet projects among the 2,200 bills the General Assembly considers each year. Only a few bills provide high drama, though, and this year the gender identity bill, quite unexpectedly, became one of the session’s most dramatic bills.
People working other issues rooted for us, kept up-to-date on the latest gossip and provided moral support. This was both surprising and exhilarating.
We quickly forget the difficulty Maryland has had in providing equal rights to the LGBT community. The 2001 Anti-Discrimination Act, which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, probably would not have passed had then-Gov. Parris Glendening, whose gay brother died of AIDS, not carried it himself.
From 2007-2010 a bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations was introduced and then killed in Sen. Brian Frosh’s Judicial Proceedings Committee. To use a boxing analogy, Frosh knocked out the bill in the first round. This year Senate President Mike Miller stopped the fight when he ran out the clock by recommitting the bill to that committee.
This time, however, we went a full 15 rounds. We resuscitated this bill when first introduced in the House. Democrats, fearful of the bathroom predator meme thrown around by religious fundamentalists, demanded that public accommodations be removed. So Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who passionately championed the comprehensive bill in 2009, reluctantly decided to proceed, less being better than nothing. Some trans activists — dismayed at the removal of public accommodations — attacked Equality Maryland, then testified against the bill.
The bill passed out of the House, where Del. Maggie McIntosh, an out lesbian, expressed regret that gender identity had not been included in the 2001 bill. Then, as we savored that historic victory, Miller shunted the bill into the Rules Committee graveyard. The Senate president pronounced the bill dead, and conventional Annapolis wisdom dictates that such bills never revive.
But revive it we did in a show of strength that caught everyone’s attention. Word got to the Washington Blade that Frosh requested the move to Rules. Our team resuscitated this flat-lined bill, canvassing in Frosh’s neighborhood. The Jewish women’s community flooded him with calls. Sen. Rich Madaleno spoke out in caucus and wielded influence behind the scenes. McIntosh retaliated in the House by holding Senate bills. The gay House caucus broke protocol and sent Miller an open letter asking for him to “play by the rules.” U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Whip, Congressman Steny Hoyer, a former Senate president himself, urged fair play as well.
Now back in JPR, a chastened Frosh, with a friendly amendment clarifying the definition of gender identity, moved the bill to the floor. The Senate president publicly promised an expedited floor vote if shown the votes. We did, and Miller — in a brute show of force on the final day — demanded that senior leadership vote to recommit the bill. To their discredit, those senators bowed to their president and killed a civil rights bill. To their credit, they refused to directly vote against it on the floor. A small victory, and cold comfort, but still progress.
Why did the president go to such lengths? He told Maryland Public Television, “I personally believe [HB 235] is anti-family, uh, so I’m going to vote against it.” Also, the talk in Annapolis is that it was simply spite, because the House did not vote on marriage after his senators had gone on record in support.
Still, we nearly achieved a major step toward a goal sought for 12 years. Our strength, manifested in community leaders, advocates and allies, including Morgan Meneses-Sheets and the staff of Equality Maryland, gays and lesbians, women, progressives, labor, religious groups, and government allies, impressed the political class. We shall return, united.