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‘Political reality’ forces changes to Md. trans bill

Some angry over removal of public accommodations clause as hearing looms

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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.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Jenna Fischetti

    March 4, 2011 at 1:13 am

    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
    TransMaryland.org

  2. Monica Roberts

    March 4, 2011 at 1:33 am

    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.

  3. Tracy Bumpus

    March 4, 2011 at 1:55 am

    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.

  4. Trans People kicked to the curb

    March 4, 2011 at 8:47 am

    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.

  5. Bianca Lynne

    March 4, 2011 at 8:59 am

    “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.

  6. Polargirl

    March 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    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?

  7. Kat

    March 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    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?

  8. Frankie James

    March 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    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.

  9. Monica Roberts

    March 4, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    @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. .

  10. Kat

    March 4, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Hmmmm….

    Barney Frankie?

  11. Tom Lang

    March 4, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    @ 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.

  12. Frankie James

    March 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

    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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LULAC Lambda announces 2021 scholarship awards

Castro, Javier Rodriguez win $1,000 honors

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Brian Castro and Victor Javier Rodriguez are this year’s LULAC award winners.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ Latinx organization LULAC Lambda has announced it has selected two D.C. residents bound for graduate studies in foreign affairs and higher education to receive its 2021 annual scholarship award.

“For a fourth year in a row, LULAC Lambda will provide scholarships to outstanding scholars who come from our LGBTQ+ Latinx community,” said Erik Rodriquez, the LULAC Lambda president, in a statement released by the group. “Our scholarship program will help these scholars achieve their academic goals and reduce their student debt,” Rodriquez said.

The statement says one of the two scholarship awards, for $1,000, will go to Brian Castro, who will begin studies for a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“The generous scholarship provided by LULAC Lambda will complement my studies by going directly into my tuition costs,” Castro said in the statement. “Though I have been a resident of Washington, D.C., working full-time at a leading public health consulting firm, I am grateful to have received the support from an organization that is also committed to social justice,” he said.

The other scholarship, for $1,300, will go to Victor Javier Rodriguez for his doctoral work in education at Florida State University. The LULAC Lambda statement says Javier Rodriquez’s academic interest lies in “exploring the relationship between school communities and districts’ implementation of anti-racist practice and student success.”

In his own words, Javier Rodriquez said, “A long-term career goal of mine is to affect change at the federal level through the United States Department of Education, in which I would work to address our nation’s education crisis by advocating for equitable policies and practices that improve the outcome for all our students, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

LULAC Lambda says it was founded in October 2014 “to mobilize and strengthen the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Washington, D.C. through community and civic engagement.” It is one of 1,000 chapters across the country affiliated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latinx volunteer-based civil rights organization, the group’s statement says.

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Missing gay man found ‘alive and well’

Police say Richard ‘Rick’ Woods found in good health

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Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man, was found alive and well.

D.C. police announced on Friday that Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man who police said was reported missing and last seen on July 14, has been located. But the announcement doesn’t provide information on where he was found or why he went missing.

Friends who know Woods say he operated for many years an antique wood furniture restoration business in various locations in D.C. The most recent location of his business, friends said, was in Georgetown a short distance from where police said he was last seen on the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.

“MPD does not publicly disclose the circumstances surrounding a missing person and how they are found, however we do release their flyer as well as a notification when they are located,” said D.C. police spokesperson Brianna Burch. “Mr. Woods was found in good health,” Burch told the Blade.

Police sought help from the public in their initial announcement that Woods was missing. The announcement said he was reported missing to police on Friday, July 23.

Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and LGBTQ rights advocate John Fanning, who said he has been friends with Woods for many years, said he was delighted to hear Woods was found in good condition.

“Rick is known by many in our community,” Fanning told the Blade at the time Woods was reported missing. Fanning said he and others who know Woods stand ready to provide support for him should he be in need of such support.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Woods for comment.

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Some D.C. gay bars to require proof of COVID vaccination

Action prompted by mayor’s order reinstating masks indoors

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Adams Morgan’s A League of Her Own is among the area queer bars requiring proof of vaccination for entry.

At least six D.C. gay bars announced last week on social media that they will require patrons to show proof that they have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for being admitted to the bars.

They include the Logan Circle area gay bars Number Nine and Trade, which are operated by the same co-owners; the Adams Morgan gay sports bars Pitchers and A League of Her Own, which are also operated by the same owner and share the same building; the 17th Street, N.W. gay bar JR.’s; and the U Street, N.W. gay bar The Dirty Goose.

The six bars, which also offer dining service, announced their proof of vaccination requirement shortly after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday, July 29, issued a new order reinstating the city’s requirement that facial masks be worn inside all businesses and other public establishments.

The mayor’s order applies to all vaccinated and unvaccinated people over the age of two. It took effect at 5 a.m. Saturday, July 31.

At a July 29 news conference, Bowser pointed to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued two days earlier recommending that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in places where transmission of the coronavirus is considered “substantial” or “high.”

The mayor said that, at the advice of her public health experts, she decided to issue the new order to help curtail the rising number of COVID cases in D.C. over the past month or more due to the rapid spread of the virus’s Delta variant, which is surging throughout the nation. Like other parts of the country, Bowser and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbit said people who are unvaccinated in D.C. make up nearly all of the newly infected cases.

“I know D.C. residents have been very closely following the public health guidelines, and they will embrace this,” Bowser said in referring to the new mask requirement.

The four-page order released by the mayor’s office, similar to the city’s earlier mask requirements, allows indoor patrons of restaurants and bars to remove their masks while “actively” eating or drinking.

But some representatives of restaurants and bars have pointed out that other jurisdictions, including Maryland and Virginia, have followed the CDC’s initial policy of making mask wearing a recommendation rather than a requirement.

“Mayor Bowser’s announcement that nightlife hospitality patrons must wear a mask indoors when not ‘actively eating or drinking’ renders the reinstated mandate essentially unenforceable and results in the rule being reduced to a largely theatrical requirement,” said Mark Lee, director of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a local trade association representing bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and other nightlife related businesses.

“The greatest disappointment for many venue operators and staff, however, is that the mayor’s decision does not allow an option for establishments to admit only fully vaccinated patrons and be exempt from the mandate, as a number of other jurisdictions across the country have done,” Lee said.

John Guggenmos, co-owner of the bars Trade and Number Nine, told the Washington Blade he and his co-owners adopted the proof of vaccination policy as an added means of protecting the safety of both patrons and employees of the two bars.

“We’re hopeful that this will be in effect for just a few weeks or a month or two,” Guggenmos said. “Our patrons have always been very supportive,” he said in referring to the city’s public health directives last year and early this year in which masks were required up until May of this year.

Guggenmos said Trade and Number Nine would allow an alternative to the vaccination requirement if patrons provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within the previous three days of their admission to the bars.

In its social media postings, Pitchers and A League of Her Own said their proof of vaccination requirement was based on the concern for the health of their patrons and staff.

“We will require proof of a COVID vaccination until further notice at Pitchers/ALOHO and masks per the mayor,” a Facebook posting says. “We take guidelines and the health of our patrons and staff very seriously. We will accept a picture or hard copy of your COVID vaccination card,” it says. “No exceptions, no arguing, no talking to the manager.”

Tammy Truong, owner of the gay bar Uproar Lounge at 639 Florida Ave., N.W., told the Blade the bar has no immediate plans to require proof of vaccination as a requirement for admission, but Uproar will fully comply with the mayor’s order requiring indoor masks.

Justin Parker, co-owner of the nearby gay bar The Dirty Goose at 913 U St., N.W., told the Blade he and his staff decided on July 30 to also put in place a requirement that patrons show either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past five days. He said a five-day window for the COVID test, which the CDC allows in some cases, was chosen rather than a three-day requirement to accommodate people who may not be able to get tested during weekends.

Owners of other D.C. queer bars couldn’t immediately be reached. But the Blade could not find any announcements by the other bars as of Friday afternoon that they planned to put in place a proof of vaccination requirement.

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