Recently there was an op-ed in the Washington Blade entitled “Maryland advocates must unite to pass trans bill” by a “guest columnist.” The author, who chose not to offer her full name, made several allegations about trans advocacy organizations in the state.
Unlike the author, I will identify myself as the current board chair and a founder of Gender Rights Maryland (GRMD), the state’s only organization founded specifically to pass legislation in Maryland to protect trans rights. Unlike the author, I am happy to name organizations as my group and I were intimately involved in this past year’s efforts in Annapolis to pass the gender identity antidiscrimination bill, SB449.
I am not going to explain at length the differences between GRMD and any other state or local organization seeking passage of these protections for gender non-conforming persons, but I will address the specifics as charged by the author.
GRMD is not a member of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality (MCTE), even though we instigated, with PFLAG National, the creation of the forerunner of that organization in late 2011. We left the organization in the spring of 2012 for a variety of reasons that will be revealed in coming weeks in various public forums and publications. GRMD makes no apologies for that decision.
As to the author’s “first hand” witnessing of events it is pretty clear from her writing that she was, at best, a second-hand witness, and has surprisingly little evidence to back up her allegations.
My organization, GRMD, did not support the lobby day, which was organized and promoted by Equality Maryland and the MCTE.
Long before lobby day, SB449 had 23 Maryland Senate sponsors, including Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman. For those unaware, 24 votes are required to pass legislation in the Senate. In addition, Senate President Mike Miller asserted on a number of occasions that he would support the bill (bringing us to the magic number of 24). Thus, if the bill were to make it out of committee to the floor of the Senate, it most assuredly would pass. Alas, there were three Democratic senators on the Judicial Proceedings Committee who voted “no;” had only one of them voted “yes,” the bill would have proceeded to the Senate floor. The reasons for those “no” votes were personal for each senator, and had nothing to do with any disagreement among the advocates.
The purpose of a well-organized lobby day would be to show support to legislators and apply pressure to those who were impediments or on the fence. Aside from those three senators on the JPR committee there was no point in raising the profile of the bill in the Senate, a position supported by the chamber’s leadership. GRMD’s position was that the focus should be on those three senators, and not the entire Senate. The best way to achieve this, in our opinion, was by one-on-one, face-to-face, scheduled meetings. If those efforts were coordinated with a keen legislative focus then perhaps we might have had another opinion. That is why we did not support the lobby day effort.
As to undermining the bill, it is interesting to note that not supporting something these days is perceived as “undermining.” I dare the author to produce a single document, social media post or email solicitation urging the public to not attend. Please, bring forth such evidence.
The second charge, for which I have evidence, is that a ranking member of the MCTE did indeed engage in a campaign to convince members of our board of directors and policy advisory board to resign. At the request of the board members I will not reveal the details of that exchange; however, I will provide an excerpt of a message received by at least one board member to authenticate the event. I have purposely removed the most offensive language (which was directed at one of our board members who is well respected in the community of color). The typos are in the original message and retained here. The last bit, of course, was directed at me.
“I am disappointed with your sitting on the Policy Advisory Board of a transphobic organization. … This is NOT an organization poised to lead. This is not an organization seeking to serve. the community. It is an organization to serve its board’s insatiable egos…..
“They participate in ‘whisper’ campaigns and spread ‘platitudes’. There are 33 people sitting on various boards. All chefs and no cooks. EVERY single one of their primary boards were in favor of compromising before negotiations, believed a partial bill was a pathway, in spite of history showing it had never been done. there is no leadership, and a fish rots from the head back …”
For the record, GRMD — this “poorly led,” all-volunteer organization — went on to spearhead passage of comprehensive bills in Howard and Baltimore counties within six months of incorporation. While we chose not to make any public pronouncements at the time, this person has repeatedly made attacks on my organization and our leadership, many of them personal. We have never called this person out and even now will not name names. We will let the MCTE police their own, or not.
I am happy to note that our organization does enjoy an active set of working boards with representatives from all persuasions, including LGB, straight and most assuredly trans communities.
It is unfortunate that the tactic here is the same one taken from the GOP playbook as of late where you blame everybody instead of the instigators. It is like saying the U.S. House is broken when the reality is there is a collection of bad actors in one party doing the damage and blaming all. We have remained largely silent on many of these antics, working to be the adult in the room. But there comes a time where you can only stand so much. That would be now.
So as for the author’s plea for unity, that sounds great. But the notion that the marriage equality effort was without differences is nonsense. Standing together cannot occur as long as there are juvenile attacks underway. GRMD has one goal — to pass antidiscrimination legislation. Pass it efficiently, quickly, quietly and comprehensively. That is all we do. Period.
Sharon Brackett is chair of Gender Rights Maryland.