Connect with us

Local

‘Political reality’ forces changes to Md. trans bill

Some angry over removal of public accommodations clause as hearing looms

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats backs Robert White over Bowser

LGBTQ group endorses Erin Palmer over incumbent Mendelson

Published

on

Council member Robert White won the backing of Capital Stonewall Democrats in his bid for mayor over incumbent Muriel Bowser. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, announced on May 17 that it has selected D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) over incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser and political newcomer Erin Palmer over D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson as its endorsed candidates in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.

With Bowser and Mendelson as well as White having longstanding records of support for LGBTQ rights and Palmer expressing strong support for the LGBTQ community, local observers say the LGBTQ Democratic group’s 163 voting members appear to have based their endorsement decisions on other pressing issues facing the city rather than only LGBTQ specific issues.

In other races, Capital Stonewall Democrats, formerly known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which was founded in 1976, voted to endorse incumbent Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau over gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary and community activist Sabel Harris who are running against Nadeau.

In the Ward 5 Council race, the group has endorsed gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker in a five-candidate contest for the seat being vacated by incumbent Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who ran unsuccessfully for the office of D.C. Attorney General.

The group has also endorsed Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is running unopposed in the primary; D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s favored to win re-election against two lesser-known opponents; and D.C. shadow U.S. Rep. Oye Owolewa, who’s also favored over a lesser known opponent.

Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it did not make an endorsement in the Ward 3 and At-Large D.C. Council races and in the D.C. Attorney General race because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote under the group’s longstanding rules for endorsements.

By not endorsing in the At-Large race, the group passed over incumbent At-Large Council member Anita Bonds, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ issues. Bonds is being challenged by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Gore, former D.C. shadow House member Nate Fleming, and former D.C. Council staffer Dexter Williams.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 Council race, nine candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by incumbent Mary Cheh, another longtime LGBTQ rights supporter.

In the race for attorney general, three prominent local attorneys — Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones, and Bruce Spiva — are competing for the AG position being vacated by incumbent Karl Racine, who chose not to run for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsements follow a series of five LGBTQ candidate forums the group held virtually in which most of the candidates running in the various races attended.
In the group’s mayoral form, Bowser was the only one of the four mayoral contenders that did not attend. Her supporters said she had a conflicting event organized by gay Democratic activist Kurt Vorndran that prevented her from attending the Stonewall event.

Those who attended the mayoral forum were Robert White, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and former attorney and community activist James Butler.
A detailed vote tally released by Capital Stonewall Democrats shows the vote count for each of the endorsed candidates as well as candidates in the races for which the group did not make an endorsement.

In the mayoral race, Robert White received 120 votes, or 74.5 percent. Bowser came in second place with 37 votes or 23.0 percent; Trayon White received just two votes or 1.2 percent, with Butler receiving just 1 vote at 0.6 percent. One vote was cast for no endorsement.

In the D.C. Council Chair race, Palmer received 89 votes or 60.1 percent, just surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement. Mendelson received 48 votes or 32.4 percent. Eleven votes were cast for no endorsement.

In the Ward 1 Council race, Nadeau received 100 votes or 69.4 percent compared to gay candidate Czapary, who came in second place with 23 votes or 16.0 percent. Candidate Sabel Harris came in third place with 9 votes or 6.3 percent, with a no endorsement selection receiving 12 votes or 8.3 percent.

In the Ward 5 contest, gay school board member Parker received 91 votes or 64.5 percent. Candidate Faith Hubbard came in second with 31 votes or 22.0 percent. The remaining candidates received fewer than 10 votes each, including former At-Large and former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, who received 5 votes or 3.5 percent.

“Since Capital Stonewall Democrats has only 221 members, and only 163 bothered to vote, this is clearly not representative of the LGBTQ+ community in the District,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who is supporting Bowser for mayor.

But longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin is among the local activists who view the Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement of lesser-known challengers – most of whom have progressive, left-leaning views – as a reflection of changes in the demographics of the LGBTQ community and the Stonewall group’s members.

“At the forefront for voters is who they feel can address core problems like crime, open drug transactions, and increased homeless populations,” Jones-Hennin told the Blade. “Just asking voters for support based on their support of the LGBTQ+ community in the past does not cut it,” he said. “We are multi-faceted voters looking for new, more progressive and aggressive leadership.”

The Capital Stonewall Democrats list of endorsements as well as races with no endorsement can be viewed below:

• Mayor: Robert White, with 74.5% of the round one vote
• DC Attorney General: No Endorsement
• DC Council Chair: Erin Palmer, with 60.1% of the round one vote
• Ward 1 Council: Brianne K. Nadeau, with 69.4% of the round one vote
• Ward 3 Council: No Endorsement
• Ward 5 Council: Zachary Parker, with 64.5% of the round one vote
• Ward 6 Council: Charles Allen, with 83.2% of the round one vote
• At-Large Council: No Endorsement
• Delegate to U.S. House of Representatives: Eleanor Holmes Norton, with 69.7% of the round one vote
• U.S. Representative: Oye Owolewa, with 66.1% of the round one vote

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

Pannell resigns in protest from Ward 8 Council member’s LGBT Commission

Says Trayon White has no out member of his staff

Published

on

Phil Pannell resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights activist Phil Pannell announced on May 6 that he has resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) on grounds that White does not have an LGBTQ person on his Council staff.

White’s office has said the Council member created the commission to “focus on the specific needs of this community” in his role as a supporter of LGBTQ equality.

“For me, this is a major issue of inclusion, affirmative action and diversity,” Pannell said in an email message announcing his resignation. “I as a Black Gay man cannot in good conscience continue to be a member of my Councilmember’s LGBT Commission when he has no one from my community on his staff,” Pannell’s announcement message continues.

“This is hypocritical at best and structurally homophobic at worst,” he said. “I deeply resent and refuse to be used as anyone’s homosexual prop for any purposes. Therefore, I resign from the commission effective immediately.”

In response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on Pannell’s resignation, Julia Jessie, White’s director of communications, said White’s Council office “follows all legal HR procedures and hires based on experience and skillset.” Jessie added, “As an employer, we do not discriminate or consider a person’s race, color, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity, when making decisions about employment qualifications.”

According to Jessie, “We do, however, harvest a safe and inclusionary work environment where employees who wish to voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation of gender identity feel comfortable doing so.”

White’s office released a statement from the Ward 8 LGBT Commission’s chair, Marvin ‘Rahim’ Briggs, saying the commission “regretfully accepts” Pannell’s resignation.

“The Commission will continue to focus on and address issues affecting Ward 8 LGBTQ,” Briggs says in the statement. “We’ll continue to organize to promote acceptance of LGBTQ community diversity and to foster respect and appreciation for each member of the community residing in Ward 8.”

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

Two gay candidates disqualified from D.C. primary ballot

Republican, Libertarian activists withdraw from races

Published

on

(Blade archive photo by Aram Vartian)

A member of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest LGBTQ local political group, mounted a successful challenge before the D.C. Board of Elections earlier this month that resulted in a gay Republican and a gay Libertarian Party activist withdrawing as candidates for public office in the city’s June 21 primary.

James Harnett, 24, a member of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee and a member of the staff of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), filed challenges to the candidacy of gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors, who was running unopposed in the June 21 primary for the office of both D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House and chair of the Libertarian Party of D.C.

The Board of Elections upheld Harnett’s challenge claiming that Majors failed to obtain a sufficient number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the ballot for both offices, according to elections board spokesperson Nicholas Jacobs. Majors withdrew his candidacy for both offices rather than contest the challenge.

The Board of Elections also upheld a challenge filed by Harnett against the candidacy of gay Republican and D.C. Log Cabin Republicans organization member Andrew Desser, who was running unopposed in the primary for the position of Ward 1 Chairperson of the D.C. Republican Committee.

Desser told the Blade he acknowledged that he fell short in obtaining the needed number of valid petition signatures and would not contest the challenge.

Harnett, who appeared to be acting on his own behalf and not representing the Capital Stonewall Democrats in his challenges to Majors and Desser before the election board, did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Board of Elections records showed that he also successfully challenged six other candidates seeking ballot placement in the June 21 primary, one of whom, Lori Furstenberg, was running for mayor as a Republican and another, Corren Brown, was running for mayor as a Statehood-Green Party member.

The others Harnett mounted a successful challenge against were GOP candidates running for the Ward 2, Ward 4, and Ward 7 GOP Chairperson positions; and Leniqua ‘Dominique’ Jenkins, a Democrat running for the at-large D.C. Council seat, who was the only Democrat challenged by Harnett.

Harnett, a former ANC commissioner in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for the nonpartisan office of D.C. Board of Education for Ward 2. Among the candidates he ran against was gay education advocate Allister Chang, who won that race.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular