This past week was an historic one for Maryland, as the Baltimore County gender identity anti-discrimination bill, Human Relations 3-12, became law. This brings the state’s population covered by similar protections, with nearly identical legal language, up to 47 percent. Since most of the state’s transgender population lives in the jurisdictions with these protections – Montgomery and Howard counties, as well as Baltimore County and City – we can say that, for practical purposes, Maryland is now a much better place in which to live.
The fundamentalist opposition from the right, which wanted to overturn the legislation in its entirety, failed to come close to collecting enough signatures to put the referendum process in motion. They couldn’t muster the minimum, and even if they did it is highly likely that 50 percent of those signatures would have turned out to be invalid anyway. Most importantly, the scare tactics of these extremists fell on deaf ears as the people of Baltimore County shouted them down. In one town hall meeting residents pounced on one of the leaders of the opposition, telling him to stop picking on vulnerable people and focus on the real needs of the county. Expanding fairness is always easier when our allies in the streets and meeting halls are willing to speak out forcefully for what’s right.
Similarly, the fundamentalist opposition from the left, the so-called “radical lesbian separatist feminists” who espouse what could locally be called “Brennanism,” failed to narrow the legislation to cover only post-operative transsexual women. Claiming that all such gender identity legislation “harms females,” these folks, who call themselves “female born female,” have mounted attacks against the entire trans community. They could, instead, be actively working to protect women from abuse by men, be it in their homes or the workplace. Instead, without a shred of evidence that gender identity legislation harms anyone, they have belligerently chosen to divide rather than unite.
Most importantly, our state laws fall nicely into the developing rubric for gender identity and expression protections throughout the country. As a result of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision last December, trans and gender-nonconforming people are protected under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This decision expands the definition of sex discrimination used throughout the government to include gender expression as it applies to trans and gender non-conforming individuals, a far, far larger class than simply post-operative transsexual women. And this new definition will impact everyone in the private as well as the public sphere, a huge and historic victory for the LGBT community.
Finally, this legislation has also been attacked as instituting “Jim Crow” in Maryland, because of a clause relating to the exclusion of “personal and private accommodations.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone deserves his or her privacy when it is appropriate, and there have been no incidents in public restrooms or showers in any of the jurisdictions with similar language within the state. Public bathrooms are not private accommodations. Interestingly, the recent reactionary attack by the University of Pittsburgh against its transgender student body, prohibiting trans persons from using the gender-appropriate bathrooms on campus without an amended birth certificate, is in direct contradiction of Allegheny County law, which also has an exclusion for “distinctly private, personal or confidential.” It seems at times that it is only when Maryland actually gets the job done that opponents of all stripes care to attack.
Clearly, though, the job is not done. The disparate impact in the state, with half covered but half not, cannot be allowed to stand. While we wait for the next opportunity to enact a statewide bill we need to proceed to include the last large jurisdiction in the state, Prince George’s County, which has a significant trans population. And, of course, just because we have legislation banning discrimination doesn’t mean prejudice has evaporated, and much work remains to be done on the ground to improve the lives of the trans and gender-non-conforming populations. Fortunately, groups with adequate resources such as Baltimore’s Transgender Response Team and Equality Maryland are successfully doing that work and making a very noticeable difference. Gender Rights Maryland stands ready to build on our legislative successes as we look forward to 2013.
Dana Beyer is executive director of Gender Rights Maryland. Reach her at email@example.com.