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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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Maryland

Lesbian candidate loses Hyattsville City Council race by 17 votes

Final results show low turnout in special election to fill vacant seat

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Lisbeth Melendez Rivera lost her race by just 17 votes.

Lesbian activist and diversity consultant Lisbeth Melendez Rivera lost by just 17 votes in a three-candidate special election on Tuesday to fill a vacant seat on the Hyattsville, Md., City Council.  

In what it said on Wednesday afternoon were the final certified results, the Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections posted on its website that candidate Emily Strab had 280 votes, Melendez Rivera had 263 votes, and candidate Kelly Burello had 152 votes. Three votes were cast for write-in candidates, the election board posting said.

The Ward 2 seat on the 10-member Hyattsville Council in the Prince George’s County suburban city became vacant when the incumbent Council member, Robert Croslin, won election as mayor.

Melendez Rivera currently operates BQN Consulting, a firm she created to provide support services related to organizing, training and capacity building, according to the firm’s website. The website says that from 2014 to 2017 she served as Director of Latinx & Catholic Initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

“I congratulated Emily,” Melendez Rivera told the Washington Blade Wednesday morning.

At that time, she said she remained hopeful that just a small number of mail-in ballots that may not have been counted on Tuesday night might emerge in her favor when the election board conducted its final tally of the votes later in the day on Wednesday or early Thursday.

But the final count released Thursday afternoon was identical to the preliminary count released Tuesday night, with winning candidate Strab receiving just 17 more votes than second-place finisher Melendez Rivera.

Melendez Rivera said she portrayed herself as the most progressive of the three candidates running for the nonpartisan City Council seat in a city that many consider to be one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the Washington metro area. Residents starting at age 16 and non-citizen immigrants are allowed to vote in local elections.

Like Melendez Rivera, Strab, a former teacher and school administrator, and Burello, who has worked as a workplace diversity trainer, each expressed support for Hyattsville’s diverse population, including racial minorities and immigrants.

The 698 total votes cast for the candidates plus what the election board lists as 3 “under votes” brought the total vote to 701 in the special election. That’s considered a low turnout for the Ward 2 election district that has a little over 2,000 registered voters.

Melendez Rivera said she plans to run again for the Ward 2 Council seat. The Hyattsville Council consists of two members for each of the city’s five wards. The second of the two Ward 2 Council seats is up for election in 2023, but Melendez Rivera said she will not run if the incumbent, Danny Schaible, decides to run for re-election.

“But I will definitely run in 2025,” she said, against then incumbent Strab, if Strab runs for re-election in 2023.

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Comings & Goings

Conner promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications

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Robert Conner

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Robert Conner, promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications. On his promotion Conner said, “I’m proud to be promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications. Our clients are all mission-driven. I am fortunate to use my expertise to help clients communicate complex and urgent information to the public in order to help people learn about new research relating to their health, and the society around them. As an activist fighting for equality and LGBTQ causes, my daily work at Scott Circle Communications aligns with my overarching life goal of using communication to benefit the greater good by writing clearly to bridge misunderstandings.” 

Conner previously worked at SKDKnickerbocker in D.C. Prior to that he had been an intern in the office of Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).  He has had a number of speaking engagements with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and received a bronze Bulldog Award for Best Media Relations Campaign 2022. He served as chair of the volunteer engagement committee of the Human Rights Campaign in Greater Philadelphia.

Conner earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa.

Congratulations also to Christopher Rudolf who joined Atlantic Shores Sotheby’s International Realty in Ocean City, Md. Rudolph is a licensed Realtor in Maryland and Delaware specializing in the beaches and coastal areas of Worcester County, Md., and Sussex County, Del. He said, “I have been assisting buyers and sellers of real estate in our area since 2015. I thoroughly enjoy helping people achieve their dreams of coastal property ownership. The Maryland/Delaware seashore is a very cool place that I like to call home, and teaching people about the history and attractions of the region is a lifelong passion of mine.”  

In addition to real estate in the warm months, Rudolf works part-time as a manager at The Kite Loft of Ocean City. He was appointed to the Ocean City Board of Zoning Appeals in 2013 by Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, and recently was elected chair of the board.  

He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Salisbury University in Maryland.  

Christopher Rudolf
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Lesbian candidate trails by just 17 votes in Hyattsville Council race

Election board mum on whether all ballots are counted

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Lisbeth Melendez Rivera (Photo courtesy of the Melendez Rivera Campaign)

Lesbian activist and diversity consultant Lisbeth Melendez Rivera was behind her closet rival by just 17 votes on Tuesday night in a three-candidate special election to fill a vacant seat on the Hyattsville, Md., City Council.

In what it said were the unofficial results of the special election, the Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections posted on its website that candidate Emily Strab had 280 votes, Melendez Rivera had 263 votes, and candidate Kelly Burello had 152 votes. Three votes were cast for write-in candidates, the election night posting said.

“Results are unofficial until certified by the Board of Supervisors of Election,” the posting said. The certification was scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6.

The online posting of the results did not say whether there were any outstanding votes from absentee or mail-in ballots. A spokesperson for the election board couldn’t immediately be reached Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

The Ward 2 seat on the 10-member Hyattsville Council in the Prince George’s County suburban city became vacant when the incumbent Council member, Robert Croslin, won election as mayor.

Melendez Rivera currently operates BQN Consulting, a firm she created to provide support services related to organizing, training and capacity building, according to the firm’s website. The website says that from 2014 to 2017 she served as Director of Latinx & Catholic Initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

“I congratulated Emily,” Melendez Rivera told the Washington Blade Wednesday morning.

 “Have I said this is the end? No, because I want to wait until tomorrow at 1 to see the outcome,” she said.

“What I know is everything that was available to them was counted as of 9:30 last night,” she said, referring to the election board. “There is a process today. They will do a last check of the mail to see if anything was postmarked before 8 p.m. last night,” Melendez Rivera said in referring to possible additional mail-in ballots.

Melendez Rivera said she portrayed herself as the most progressive of the three candidates running for the nonpartisan City Council seat in a city that many consider to be one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the Washington metro area. Residents starting at age 16 and non-citizen immigrants are allowed to vote in local elections.

Like Melendez Rivera, Strab, a former teacher and school administrator, and Burello, who has worked as a workplace diversity trainer, each expressed support for Hyattsville’s diverse population, including racial minorities and immigrants.

The 698 total votes cast in the special election as of Tuesday night is considered a low turnout in the Ward 2 election district, which has a little over 2,000 registered voters.

This story will be updated when new information becomes available.

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