The end of 2013 means the 2014 Maryland legislative session is soon to begin. Like in years past, 2014 will open with no federal or statewide law expressly banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The absence of these protections leaves the Maryland transgender community uniquely vulnerable to rampant discrimination.
A widely cited study published in 2010 confirms that transgender Marylanders are experiencing crisis levels of discrimination. Seventy-one percent of transgender Marylanders reported harassment in the workplace and nearly half reported losing a job, not being hired or being denied promotions simply because of who they are. More than half reported being harassed in public spaces. Perhaps most tellingly, 43 percent reported having attempted suicide. The general public attempted suicide at a rate of 1.6 percent. In short, discrimination against transgender Marylanders is the norm and, with little hope for fairness, they are escaping through death. One need not be a transgender person to be alarmed.
Each year, transgender people and their allies advocate for Maryland’s legislature to pass a statewide ban on gender identity discrimination in Maryland. The statistics above, and people’s individual stories, show that these protections are desperately needed.
Each year, this newspaper covers the campaign to ban gender identity discrimination and the obstacles that stand in the way. But for all that has been written on this topic, one thing has been missed: the need for greater unity and cooperation among all who care about transgender people in Maryland and support legal protections against gender identity discrimination.
Last year, I served on the steering committee of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality, which counts among its members virtually all of Maryland’s transgender-focused advocacy organizations except for one. My position made me a first-hand witness to the conflict among activist groups seeking passage of last year’s gender identity bill, the Fairness For All Marylanders Act.
Last year’s conflicts, as with years past, extended far beyond mere disagreement. They included advocacy organizations actively opposing one another’s efforts to pass the bill. For example, I witnessed one organization holding a lobby day event and rally to gather support for the bill. I saw a rival organization actively work to suppress participation. I saw one organization try to tear down its rival by persuading its membership to resign from it. If we support gender identity legislation, then this is the type of dissension we cannot afford. Efforts need to be directed toward passing gender identity protections rather than tearing one another down.
Disagreements are normal, and even a necessary part of making progress. But active attempts by gender identity advocates to suppress efforts at passing gender identity legislation are neither normal nor productive. The Fairness for All Marylanders Act failed by a single vote. You have to wonder if its fate might have been different had advocates set aside their differences and worked together to focus their efforts on passing a bill that the entire transgender community and all of its allies could stand behind.
Indeed, we are so close to success in passing the bill that I suspect the only thing we lack is unified focus on the legislation instead of on competition among advocacy groups. Marriage equality came to Maryland once its advocates unified and formed a coalition to work together on achieving it. Passing gender identity legislation requires its supporters to do the same.
The transgender community needs advocates who will focus their energy on fighting for it instead of fighting among themselves. All of us who care for transgender people hope that the lessons of last year, and of years past, have been learned and that this year will be different. We all want the advocates to set aside their differences, pull together and get this done.
Let’s stand together and make this the year we all succeed.
The Washington Blade agreed to withhold the author’s last name due to her ongoing struggle with employment discrimination.