May 21, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Md. advocates divided over possible trans law referendum
Transgender Rights Bill, Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014, Maryland, Annapolis, Martin O'Malley, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a transgender rights bill into law. Advocates disagree on whether to highlight efforts to force a referendum on it. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Some Maryland LGBT advocates have expressed concern over highlighting efforts to force a referendum on the state’s recently signed transgender rights law.

The Washington Blade obtained an e-mail that Brigida Krzysztofik of Gender Rights Maryland sent to Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, on May 14 after her organization sent a message to supporters asking them to report “petition-gatherers in your area.” NCTE asked its supporters to stop people from signing the petition and e-mail Keith Thirion of Equality Maryland to become more involved in the effort to defend the trans rights law.

“Telling people being approached by signature-gatherers that the law simply ensures everyone can work for a living, securing housing and get served at a restaurant will make them think twice about joining an effort to repeal it,” reads the NCTE message. “It’s most important they hear that the law is about ending discrimination.”

“It may feel more empowering to rally your members to discourage others from signing, but in the end it will only hurt us,” Krzysztofik told Keisling in her e-mail to which Dana Beyer, Sharon Brackett and Jonathan Shurberg of Gender Rights Maryland were copied. “Better to put all our hands together to get ready to fight this effectively, so that we’re ready.”

Krzysztofik e-mailed Keisling the day before Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law Senate Bill 212 — the Fairness for All Marylanders Act — that state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced earlier this year. Beyer in January announced she would challenge the Montgomery County Democrat in next month’s Democratic primary.

“We’ll settle this in the courtroom,” Shurberg told the Washington Blade, referring to a possible referendum on the trans rights law. “Highlighting it and drawing attention to it is only going to give it more oxygen than it deserves.”

Shurberg, the chair of Gender Rights Maryland’s Legislative Committee who is seeking to represent House District 20 in the Maryland House of Delegates, was the lawyer who led efforts to successfully block a possible referendum on the Montgomery County trans rights law in 2008. Efforts to keep a statute that extended in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants off the ballot in 2012 failed, but voters later approved the Maryland Dream Act alongside the state’s same-sex marriage law that O’Malley signed earlier in the year.

The Montgomery County Ethics Commission in 2008 cleared Beyer of allegations that she told opponents of the local trans rights law who were collecting signatures outside a local supermarket that she worked for then-County Council member Duchy Tractenberg as she confronted them.

Beyer is a former member of the Equality Maryland Board of Directors.

Opponents need required signatures by May 31

State Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington County) last month announced he has begun to collect signatures to prompt a referendum on the trans rights law.

The Washington County Republican and other opponents need to collect a third of the 55,737 necessary signatures by the end of this month. The remainder of them are due to state election officials by June 30 in order for the law to appear on the November ballot.

Parrott’s website, MDPetitions.com, urged opponents of the trans rights law to “sign the Bathroom Bill petition” during a gubernatorial candidates forum in Germantown on Tuesday.

State Del. Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel County) on Sunday sent an e-mail to supporters that included a link to Parrott’s website that contains a link to the referendum petition. The Anne Arundel County Republican also listed four locations in his district where people can sign it.

“Formally (and deceptively) named the ‘Fairness For All Marylanders Act,’ the bill requires businesses to open up their public facilities including bathrooms, saunas, shower rooms, changing rooms, locker rooms, etc. so that men can use the ladies’ room and women can use the men’s room,” wrote Kipke. “It does not require the individual to actually go through a medical sex change but rather just have a ‘sincere’ belief that they identify with the opposite gender. Even registered sex offenders and convicted rapists will be allowed to use the wrong bathroom under this legislation.”

Equality Maryland declined to comment.

“It’s important Equality Maryland, the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality and the National Center for Transgender Equality is out there saying that’s informed other people about what’s going on, to make sure people are not duped as some claim they were about marriage,” Madaleno told the Blade on Tuesday. “It makes sense to be out there letting our supporters know where they are and why this is bad.”

Keisling told the Blade that NCTE continues to work with Equality Maryland and other partner organizations on the issue.

“The people on the ground who have been doing all the work have asked all the member organizations of the coalition to reach out to all of our Maryland constituencies, so we did,” she said. “As a national organization if we question the tactical choices of the 30 groups working on this without us being on the ground, it wouldn’t be wise.”

O’Malley pointed out to the Blade during a telephone interview before he signed SB 212 that voters in 2012 approved the state’s same-sex marriage law and the Maryland Dream Act. A Goucher Poll in March indicates 71 percent of Marylanders support the trans rights law.

“Whatever success they might have in initially working up the gullible and petitioning this to referendum I believe the people of our state will agree that to discriminate against another human being is wrong,” O’Malley told the Blade.

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

3 Comments
  • The advocates are “divided” about this the same way that the scientific community is “divided” about climate change. We have 50+ national, statewide, and local organizations in a coalition asking people to fight the referendum and urge others to decline to sign the petition. We have one small, not very significant splinter group urging people to do nothing.

    It is unfortunate that Gender Rights Maryland continues trying to obstruct efforts to protect transgender Marylanders. But fortunately, they are quite an irrelevant little group.

  • Caroline Temmermand

    Everyone's voice is important. In the end, all groups agree that law is sorely needed. And it should be no brainer that everyone should be looking at who is distorting the truth to scare people into signing for a referendum on a fairness to all law.

  • Nancy F.N. Drew

    So if I understand this, one “group” who doesn’t have the mechanism to DO any of the work needed to 1) organize constituent pressure of legislators to assist in passing the law, 2.) run an education campaign to teach the facts about the law that was just passed, is advocating doing nothing.

    So, if the petition drive is unsuccessful they will claim success, and if sufficient signatures are gathered they can blame “[t]he people on the ground who have been doing all the work”.

    What a wonderfully simplistic strategy. Do nothing, take credit. Are we sure they not really Republicans?

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