February 20, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Maryland Senate committee approves transgender rights bill
Heather Mizeur, Maryland, House of Delegates, Annapolis, SB 212, transgender, gay news, Washington Blade

State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) on Feb. 4 testified in support of a transgender rights bill.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would ban anti-transgender discrimination in the state.

The 8-3 vote took place slightly more than two weeks after lawmakers held a hearing on Senate Bill 212 that state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced last month. The measure would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodation and credit.

State Sens. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore City), Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery County), Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County), C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County) and James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) voted for Senate Bill 212. State Sens. Nancy Jacobs (R-Cecil and Harford Counties), Christopher Shank (R-Washington County) and Joseph Getty (R-Baltimore and Carroll Counties) opposed it.

The committee by a 7-4 vote margin also approved Raskin’s proposed amendment to SB 212 that would allow for “private and functionally equivalent” spaces, such as locker rooms, for people of different gender identities.

“It’s our strongest vote ever out of that committee,” Madaleno told the Washington Blade as he applauded Equality Maryland, the Human Rights Campaign and the Maryland Coalition for Transgender Equality who lobbied lawmakers to support SB 212. “It reflects on the incredible hard work that people have done to educate members of that committee about the need for this bill.”

Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, who announced late last month she will challenge Madaleno in the June Democratic primary, specifically applauded Stone, Muse and Brochin who voted against a similar measure last year. She also thanked Raskin and attorney Jonathan Shurberg for securing the necessary votes on the committee to ensure SB 212′s passage.

“I thank Senators Brochin, Muse and Stone for joining their fellow democrats and taking a stand for fairness and decency today,” Beyer told the Washington Blade. “It is much appreciated.”

Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans and other LGBT rights advocates also applauded the vote.

“It is such a relief to finally have this bill come out of the Senate committee,” said Matt Thorn, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland. “I am looking forward to the Senate passing the bill next week.”

Gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur is among those who also testified for the measure. Her Democratic challengers – Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler – submitted written testimony in support of SB 212.

“I am extremely pleased that the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has voted to send the Fairness for All Marylanders Act to the full Senate, and one major step closer to full equality for all Marylanders,” Gansler told the Blade in a statement. “I have been a supporter of this bill, and led the fight for marriage equality in our state. I congratulate Sen. Madaleno and Sen. Raskin for all their hard work and effort in helping tear down another wall of discrimination.”

Elaine McDermott of Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government and Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council are among those who spoke against the measure. The Maryland Catholic Conference and other organizations submitted testimony in opposition to SB 212.

Baltimore City and Baltimore, Montgomery and Howard Counties currently include gender identity and expression to their non-discrimination laws. Hyattsville in December became the first jurisdiction in Prince George’s County to pass a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance.

“This is a protection we want to make sure gets extended statewide,” said Mizeur as she testified in support of SB 212 on Feb. 4. “Protection against discrimination shouldn’t depend on your zip code.”

Madaleno told the Blade he feels the three major Democratic gubernatorial candidates who all supported the measure helped secure its passage in the committee. He added the fact that neighboring Delaware last year added gender identity and expression to its anti-discrimination law was another factor.

“It’s a number of things where we just had the momentum,” said Madaleno.

Delaware is among the 17 states along with D.C. and Puerto Rico that ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania, New York and other states have introduced similar measures.

The Maryland House of Delegates in 2011 approved a trans rights bill. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last March narrowly killed an identical measure that Madaleno introduced.

SB 212 will now go before the full Senate where observers say it has enough votes to pass.

The Maryland House of Delegates in 2011 approved a similar bill that did not include public accommodations.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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