March 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
‘Political reality’ forces changes to Md. trans bill

Supporters and opponents were expected to turn out in force on March 9 for a hearing on a bill before a Maryland House of Delegates committee that calls for prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in employment and housing.

Officials with the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland said they were hopeful that the hearing before the Health and Government Operations Committee would be the first step leading to the bill’s approval this year by the Maryland Legislature, marking a historic first for transgender rights.

But political insiders at the state capital in Annapolis said supporters were bracing for possible vocal opposition to the bill from some transgender activists, who have expressed anger over a decision by the bill’s lead sponsor to remove a provision banning discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, private health clubs and gyms.

Some of the bill’s supporters worry that testimony against the bill from transgender people combined with the expected opposition from various religious leaders and social conservatives could be a devastating blow to the legislation.

Others, such as veteran transgender advocate Dana Beyer, a former candidate for a House of Delegates seat from Montgomery County, say other transgender activists such as she will voice support for the bill, countering those who oppose it.

Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties), a strong supporter of LGBT equality who has sponsored a transgender rights bill in the legislature since 2007, said she removed the public accommodations provision this year after determining it was the only way to obtain enough votes to pass the legislation.

“The bottom line is discrimination is not right,” she told the Blade Wednesday. “I have had this bill now for over three years and initially I introduced it with the section on public accommodations, which I believe in. “

Pena-Melnyk said she determined that the “political reality” required that she make changes in the bill to line up the votes needed to pass it. She said she understands the frustration of transgender Marylanders who wanted the public accommodations provision to remain in the bill.

“But I also feel it’s the right thing to do to give people protection under the law,” she said. “It’s better than nothing. A half a load is better than no load at all.”

Equality Maryland Executive Director Morgan Meneses-Sheets said the group agrees with Pena-Melnyk’s decision to drop the public accommodations provision, with the intent of going back to the legislature next year to put public accommodations back in after the measure passes.

Noting that supporters were unable to get the bill out of committee during the past three years, Meneses-Sheets said most supporters believe an incremental strategy of advancing employment and housing protections for transgender people this year is a “far better” option than seeing the bill go down to defeat and having no protections at all.

“This helps folks right now with discrimination that they’re facing in jobs and housing,” she said. “This is a huge problem. And the housing protections are not only for housing you immediately think of like renting an apartment. In Maryland, housing is also interpreted to cover shelters.”

She noted that studies in the state show that as many as 12 percent of transgender Marylanders have experienced homelessness – sometimes due to employment discrimination that results in the loss of a job or housing discrimination resulting in the loss of an apartment.

Beyer said she, too, reluctantly has come out in support of the bill.

“The bottom line is we didn’t pass this in ‘07, we didn’t pass it in ‘08, ‘09 or last year,” she said. “So if we can get something done and we get a commitment from the community to come back next year, that’s the best we can do under the circumstances.”

Added Beyer: “It’s not ideal. We should have done it better before. But this is where we are today. People are suffering and it needs to get done.”

Beyer and others familiar with the Maryland Legislature said the decision to drop the public accommodations provision was driven by sensational claims by opponents that certain businesses like gyms and health clubs would be forced to allow male cross-dressers to use female locker rooms and bathrooms under the provision.

Those raising this concern warn that allowing male-to-female transgender people to use women’s bathroom facilities would jeopardize the safety of women, even though supporters of transgender rights legislation say such problems have not surfaced in any of the states, cities or towns that have adopted trans rights laws.

Opponents of the bill, led by some of the same anti-LGBT groups that oppose same-sex marriage, often have cited religious beliefs as grounds for denying non-discrimination protections for transgender people.

Some of the opposition to the bill from transgender activists has come from out-of-state bloggers who argue that passing a “bad” transgender law in Maryland would set a precedent that could hurt efforts to pass laws in other states.

Trans activist Monica Roberts of Texas wrote in Feb. 15 blog posting that gay and lesbian activists, led by Equality Maryland, were devoting most of their efforts to passing a same-sex marriage bill while failing to devote the attention needed to pass a stronger trans bill.

Closer to home, Sandy Rawls, a transgender activist who heads the group Trans-United, announced her opposition to the bill last month.

“Due to public outrage and disappointment of taking public accommodations out of Maryland House Bill 235, I … reviewed the facts with legal representation. As a result, Trans-United is pulling its support for the proposed legislation.”

A press conference scheduled for this week on the bill was postponed until March 9.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • In responsible journalism, should you wish to investigate a story and write on it, a collection of the purported facts should obtained. In writing this piece you have not interviewed a single person in opposition to the bill, while interviewing or at least reporting the statements of three persons in favor of this weakened bill. You didn’t speak with Sandy Rawls, you merely reposted a statement from her Facebook profile, you reference a national transgender activist with as much if not more experience in civil rights than ANYONE currently discussing this legislation and even then, its just one comment about same-sex marriage and the attention the anti-discrimination bill is getting. Nothing on the points of why this is poor legislation. No counterpoint to what amounts to a fluff piece written for the benefit of EQMD and its attempt to ram a flawed bill on the community solely so one politician, a bureaucrat and one civil rights attorney can claim victory.

    The political reality is Senator Rich Madaleno, D Montgomery County, the Maryland Senate’s only openly gay Senator has called for this bill to be amended with public accommodations. That countless local members of the transgender community do not support the bill because it creates a separate but not equal subclass of citizenship for individuals based on gender identity. Lou, can you name me 5 people this would protect? I can name you 6 million. THE ENTIRE STATE OF MARYLAND as EVERY citizen has a gender identity, just that not all are transsexual or transgender and face the immediate or obvious discrimination, but are still subject to discrimination. Young boys wanting to wear Daphne costumes for Halloween or the softball playing ‘tomboys’ are affected by gender expression and the discrimination it presents. Public accommodations, what are they? What’s your favorite emergency room? What’s you preferred ambulance service? We would ask Tyra Hunter, but regrettably she’s not able to answer that. She was a DC resident refused basic emergency services based on her gender identity. As a result she died. What bill brings her back? Restores her family to whole?

    Additionally due to prior versions including public accommodations, this years draft without establishes legislative intent that separate but not equal classes were the intent of the legislature in drafting the bill, preventing jurist interpretation which might otherwise provide protection not explicitly defined. So even if we might try to litigate a provision of the employment or housing to cover public accommodations we’re pinched. And believe me, the logic that shelters are housing is based on the notion they can be ‘interpreted’ that way.

    The transgender community has been sold out on numerous occasions and refuses to accept an empty promise from a group, devoid of transsexual representation and a history of transgender members leaving its ranks on the board in complete frustration of lack in understanding on these issues. If Equality Maryland truly believes and is interested in fighting for the inclusion of public accommodations, it will back an amendment REMOVING sexual orientation from the public accommodations Codes in Maryland (20-302, 20-304, 20-401,and 20-402) and THEN come out saying ‘We’re now TRULY in this fight just like you!” That’s putting your money where your mouth is. But they won’t because they know better. Half a loaf? It a dead end street. If our legislators are incapable of recognizing BASIC civil rights, the transgender community prefers to educate and continue to place constituent based pressure on them to wake up to the fact its 2011.

    Why is there so much fact and information coming from my keyboard when you were silent on these points? Because I research my facts. I am a woman of transsexual history. I am one of the voices which Equality Maryland wishes to gloss over. One of the voices you wished to ignore….

    Jenna Fischetti

  • Since you’re going to selectively quote me in this article, I also said this in that Feb 15.’Still Concerned About The Flawed MD Trans Rights Bill’ post on my blog.

    Yes Maryland trans peeps, Lord knows I understand how badly you want trans rights coverage along with everyone else shouting from the rooftops that this bill is flawed. But better to insist on an airtight and properly written trans rights bill from the outset, even if it takes a few more years to pass than settle for a bad bill now.

    Any civil rights bill ever written has that no brainer language in it, including the ones that the GL community cut us out of that cover them. But yet Equality Maryland drafted and submitted HB 235 to the Maryland legislature, admitted they did so, and is pimping the ‘incremental rights’ mantra at the trans community while they settle for nothing less than full blown same sex marriage for themselves.

    GL community, if legislative ‘crumbs’ aren’t acceptable to you, they aren’t for me and my community either, especially in light of the fact it’s trans POC’s who are taking the brunt of the trans hate casualties and the discrimination.

  • I would just like to add my two cents. My grandmother use to say a piece of something beats nothing and she got it from her mother who was a slave. And for them and that era something did beat nothing. We are in a new era an era where it is completely unthinkable that anyone would ask another human in this time in history to settle for some, instead of full unalienable rights, equality, and equal protections. Even more unthinkable is the fact that those put in office to serve and fight for legislation that protect the citizens would even be willing to settle for less when they have nothing but the very best. And for those transgender people who back this bill well if they’re running for political office how many protections have they gone without and what are their real motives for backing a bill that would so plainly not affect the transgender folks that need it the most? Those are some things you might want to consider when you report on this topic again. Because you will report on it again or someone at this rag will you be sure and ask them to ask the tough questions to those who back it.

  • Trans People kicked to the curb

    The focus in Annapolis has been on same-sex marriage while transgender people can’t even use restrooms in some places. Then they stripped the use of restrooms out like they did in Montgomery County.

    The trans community has to stop depending as heavily on LGB resources for support and demand trans activism from it’s community. I know too many of my friends that are content to let someone else hand them their rights. The trans community won’t go far unless everyone in it contributes.

    Maryland lawmakers aren’t looking for confrontation with the out-of-state radical right wing hate mongers so they capitulate early and don’t look back. They figure most trans women/men probably don’t vote. I don’t know what the statistics are regarding trans-voter turnout but I imagine the lawmakers are correct.

  • “This is a huge problem. And the housing protections are not only for housing you immediately think of like renting an apartment. In Maryland, housing is also interpreted to cover shelters.”

    It should be clear that this does not cover trans women in shelters safely. While this means that a shelter can’t turn away a trans person, it does not mean that they will be housed in the appropriate facility. It means that trans women will probably be housed with men – making it highly likely that we will be subject to sexual assault and other violent crimes when we are at our most vulnerable.

    It should also be noted that simple daily activities that most people consider basic for survival are still legally able to refuse service to trans people. Things like public transportation and grocery stores. Even within employment and housing the absence of public accommodations can be used to fire trans people and deny us housing – work-place bathrooms and common areas within housing complexes could easily be restricted, denied, or simply used as an excuse.

  • Civil Rights are barely being enforced for any group these days. It has atrophied to lip service at best to open contempt at worst.

    Civil Rights and inequality is an oxymoron when put in the same context as this bill is doing. The only thing helping anyone is the appearance of respect. If you have a so called “civil rights” bill that writes inequality into law, than appearnce of respect is lost making transgender peopel no better off than if there was no law on the nooks and perhaps worse off due to the animosity created by a half assed bill not to mention what out of state strategists were compaining about.

    What good is employment “non-discrimination” law if an employer can legally harass or humiliate a transgender employee over bathroom issues?

  • Why is it that when a politician changes his mind to the detriment of trans rights its ‘political reality’ that must be respected, but when a politician changes his mind to the detriment of same-sex marriage, its not simply political reality but, instead, the politician becomes the embodiment of betrayal – Benedict Arnold multiplied by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg with a Quisling chaser?

  • Because of the YUCK factor.

    Transgender – in the eyes of most voters, I would bet, is thought of as nothing more than a freaky old uncle who dresses up for Halloween – the one your parents whispered in your ear – stay away from him.

    Gays and Lesbians – in the eyes of mosts voters, I would bet, rank way easier to accept and a lower YUCK factor.

    You need to stand on your own and fight your own battle because this is not a gay issue and should not be tied together.

    I remember long ago when being gay and saying so was a horrible thing… with time and education, you might sway a few.

    I suspect your climb will be uphill for decades.

  • @Frankie
    We were the ones that started this movement. Without Sylvia Rivera and the drag queens being sick and tired of being jacked with at Stonewall, you Mattachine gays wouldn’t have known how to act up, much less push back against your oppressors.

    When Christine Jorgenson came back for Denmark in 1953, that headline moved an aboveground nuke test off the front pages as the lead story. We had the ability to marry, and weren’t listed in the DSM manual while you gay folks were.

    The pushback from conservative forces came sometime in the late 70’s-early 80’s and hatred and sabotage from GL forces didn’t help

    And BTW, some of our peeps are gay. The oppression you GL peeps get is predominately because of your transgressions of the gender binary, not revulsion over who you sleep with. .

  • @ Frankie. A different “yuck factor”?? Yeah, you got that right. As a member of the L,G population and a very outspoken MA activist, I will tell you my experience. Gays and lesbians face the issue of being considered morally reprehensible and morally suspect. All our marriage fights are taken down to the argument of our existence hurting children, hurting the family, destroying or tainting marriage. We lesbians and gays are “evil” in the eyes of those who hate us and try to persuade the masses.
    Transgender and transsexuals are not part of the morally suspect class. If you do any lobbying on behalf of transgender people you will quickly find that leges do not think that transgender people are wanting to use bathrooms or locker rooms for nefarious purposes. A boogeyman man has been created to hurt these bills that would protect transgender people and even the antilgbt’s don’t target trans people, I firmly believe that they are directing their hostility against the gay lobby in general and trans people’s rights are the easiest to smash. So we are connected in this fight. Trans people are killed in the crossfire .
    And regarding the reality of all of this…it isn’t trans people who are being caught having sex in bathrooms or lurking in locker rooms. It is males– heterosexuals and gays ( closeted and not closeted). So before you so quickly are to tell trans people that it is their fight alone, I suggest you look in the mirror and take a little ownership of the current situation that we are in–together.

  • Sorry folks – it is the YUCK factor. Trans YUCK is a lot higher than G & L yuck.

    As for your comment about the bathrooms – well clearly that has made no difference. Most uneducated straight voters will never understand this struggle. Period.

    The problem is men dressing as women and women dressing as men – that is all they see. I try to understand as it was once a battle for me to even say I was gay, much less keep a job. But it is a challenge so rather than fight for you I differ to you.

    Sorry, but as gay man, when folks ask me why you do it, I only answer with a shrugg and bewildered look. We are not connected.

    Just as Tracy Bumpus said above – You will not win this battle with or without the G&L community unless you accept the baby steps.

    Trust me however, you will get my vote, if it ever comes up.

    Good Luck.

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