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Md. House debates trans rights bill

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Supporters of a Maryland bill to ban discrimination in employment and housing based on gender identity greatly outnumbered opponents testifying at a hearing Wednesday.

About 30 witnesses spoke in favor of the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, compared to about 10 opponents, including one transgender activist who testified against the bill on grounds that it lacks language barring discrimination in public accommodations.

“Today, every Marylander should expect to work or live in comfortable housing without fear of losing a safe space because of who they are,” said Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties), the lead sponsor of the bill.

Pena-Melnyk and the other witnesses testified before the House of Delegates Committee on Health and Government Operations, which has jurisdiction over a bill that has died in the committee every year since 2007.

As a member of the committee who knows the sentiment of its members, Pena-Melnyk told the Blade last week that she decided to remove a public accommodations non-discrimination provision from the bill this year with the expectation that doing so would greatly improve the chances of the bill passing.

Nearly all the Maryland and national transgender advocates familiar with the bill, including those testifying at the Wednesday hearing, have said they reluctantly agreed with Pena-Melnyk’s decision to remove the public accommodations clause as a means of advancing the bill.

Lisa Mottet, director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s Transgender Civil Rights Project, pointed to a joint report released by the Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality showing what she called an alarming incidence of job and housing discrimination faced by transgender residents in Maryland.

The report found that 71 percent of trans residents in the state experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job and 18 percent lost their job “just because of who they are,” Mottet told the committee.

Mottet called the enactment of a bill banning employment and housing discrimination against transgender people “critical” to their safety and security.

Transgender resident Owen Smith, who works for Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT group coordinating the lobbying effort for the bill, gave a first-hand account of how employment discrimination resulted in him becoming homeless.

“I have been harassed and even assaulted at work because I am transgender,” he told the committee. “I was kicked out of my apartment for not being able to afford my monthly rent…I was forced to live out of my car,” he said, adding, “I am just one of the hundreds of transgender Marylanders in need of these protections.”

Several of the opponents who testified against the bill reiterated arguments made during the committee’s hearings on the bill in past years – that the bill would open the way for male pedophiles and rapists to target heterosexual women in women’s bathrooms or locker rooms at health clubs or other public places.

“This bill is a friend to males with ill intentions,” said Elaine McDermott, an official with Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government. “HB 235 [the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act] robs me of my right to safety and privacy.”

Supporters of the bill noted that the removal of the public accommodations provision means the bill no longer covers places like public bathrooms or gyms and health clubs. But backers of the bill have said that none of the potential problems cited by McDermott and other opponents have surfaced in the states and cities that have had transgender non-discrimination laws in place for 20 years or longer.

Mottet noted that Baltimore and Montgomery County have enacted transgender non-discrimination laws that include public accommodations protection and they, too, have not encountered any of the bathroom-related problems raised by opponents.

Other opponents testifying at Wednesday’s hearing in Annapolis cited religious grounds for their opposition to the bill, saying biblical teachings hold that God determines a person’s gender and anyone seeking to change their gender is violating “God’s law.”

This assessment was challenged by several religious leaders who testified in favor of the bill, including Fr. Joseph Palacios, a Roman Catholic priest who teaches at Georgetown University. Palacios noted that the bill specifically exempts religious institutions from being bound by the bill’s non-discrimination provisions in employment and housing.

He said Catholic teaching has long stood up against discrimination and persecution of minorities. Palacios, who is gay, and gay Catholic activists Phil Attey and Manley Calhoun, who also testified in support of the bill, came to the hearing bearing cross marks on their foreheads in connection with Ash Wednesday.

The committee was expected to vote on whether to approve the bill and send it to the floor of the full House of Delegates within the next week or two.

Committee members asked very few questions of the witnesses during the three-hour hearing. Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Equality Maryland’s executive director who also testified in favor of the bill, attributed the lack of questions to a familiarity with the bill among many of the committee members.

“We’ve had a number of these hearings before,” she said. “And many of us have visited and spoken with committee members on the bill and why we feel it’s crucial for protecting the rights of transgender Marylanders.”

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Virginia

Equality Loudoun hosts its first Pride celebration

‘Our plans for next year are going to be bigger, bolder’

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A scene from Loudoun Pride on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A year after a controversial brawl between parents and administration officials regarding the implementation of trans-friendly policies in public schools in Loudoun County, Va., a local LGBTQ organization hosted its inaugural Pride festival in solidarity with the area’s LGBTQ community.

“Pride means a chance to show this county that the loud voices who have been standing against LGBTQ equality do not represent the voices of [everyone] in the [county],” said Cris Candiace Tuck, president of Equality Loudoun. “[A lot of us] here believe in equality.”

Equality Loudoun hosted its Pride celebration on June 26 at Claude Moore Park in Sterling, Va. 

When planning for Pride month festivities, the organization designed the events to reflect the diverse interests and identities of Loudoun County’s queer population. There was a wide collection of vendors selling Pride merchandise, advocacy non-profit organizations and musical acts featured on the main stage. 

There was also a “Loudoun Pride Drag Stage” event where the “hottest of Loudoun Royalty” showcased their musical talents. 

“We want everyone to … recharge emotional batteries that have been drained,” said Tuck.

Planning Equality Loudoun’s Pride festival did not come without its fair share of surprises. Initially, the organization had planned for a smaller event. However, when more individuals began showing interest, the organization was forced to switch to a bigger venue to allow more vendors to attend.

“We had many vendors call in and we had to turn a [number] away,” said Tuck.

The organization planned its festivities in 90 days, two weeks during which it raised $45,000 — three times as much as it had originally expected.

Equality Loudoun has its sights set on getting LGBTQ community members and allies connected to the resources the organization offers through education and health advocacy.

“Pride [will always be] a celebration of our heritage,” said Tuck. “It’s a moment to recognize what we have gained and lost.”

Tuck said that ideas for next year are already underway.

“Our plans for next year are going to be bigger, bolder and brighter,” he said.

Click HERE to see more photos from the event.

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Comings & Goings

Cummings joins White House Office of National Cyber Director

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John Cummings

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 John Cummings on joining the Office of the National Cyber Director at the White House as Director of Supply Chain and Technology Security. Upon getting the position, he said, “I am beyond thrilled to join the growing team at the National Cyber Director’s Office and bring my experience to our mission of mitigating the cyber threats facing our nation and ensuring every American can enjoy the full benefits of the digital ecosystem. It is truly a privilege to work with this incredibly brilliant and collegial group of cyber experts.” 

Prior to joining the White House, Cummings served as Associate General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Before that role, he served as interim Chief Counsel for ODNI’s National Counterintelligence and Security Center and as Associate General Counsel for the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.

He has provided legal advice and counsel on matters of government-wide and interagency policy and national security in the areas of executive authority, cyber, constitutional law, civil rights and civil liberties, legislative affairs, and international cooperation. He has worked on recruiting LGBTQ, women, and minority applicants for government roles in national security and is experienced in public relations, stakeholder relationships, and international partnerships. 

Cummings began his career clerking for the Honorable Ivan L.R. Lemelle, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and also clerked for the House Committee on Homeland Security and the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

He attended Villanova University where he received a bachelor’s degree in English. He earned his J.D. from Loyola Law, New Orleans, and his LL.M. in National Security Law from Georgetown Law.

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Maryland

Abortion rights in post-Roe Maryland, Delaware

Practice generally legal, with some restrictions

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (Public domain photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 found that the decision to receive an abortion was generally protected by the Constitution of the United States. With the broadest federal protection of abortion access now rescinded, the legality of abortion will by and large be determined on the state level.

In Delaware, abortion is legal through the Medical Practice Act — but with some restrictions.

After fetal viability, or the point where a fetus can survive outside the uterus, abortion in the First State becomes illegal unless necessary for the patient’s “life or health,” or if the fetus has a condition “for which there is not a reasonable likelihood” that it will survive outside the uterus, according to Subchapter IX of the act

Additionally, under the state’s Parental Notice of Abortion Act, physicians cannot perform a surgical abortion on minors under the age of 16 unless the patient’s parent or guardian has received at least 24 hours notice from a medical professional. Notice is not required for nonsurgical abortions.

On the federal level, the funding of abortion is illegal through the 1977 Hyde Amendement “except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive rights advocacy organization. States are only federally required to fund abortions that meet these conditions through federal-state Medicaid programs. 

While some states also fund abortions deemed medically necessary regardless of whether they endanger a patient’s life, Delaware state law does not extend beyond federal guidelines: The state only funds abortions in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.

Abortion legislation in Delaware mirrors neighboring Maryland, whose laws include similar restrictions on abortion after fetal viability and abortion for minors under the age of 16. But abortion laws in these states are generally more restrictive than other mid-Atlantic counterparts, such as New Jersey and New York.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) weighed in on the state’s abortion law on Friday.

“In 1992, Maryland voters approved a constitutional referendum legalizing and protecting access to abortion as a matter of state law – that measure remains in effect today following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson. I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Maryland, and that is what I have always done and will continue to do as governor.”

The impact of Roe v. Wade’s fall in Delaware remains uncertain. While the abortion rate in Delaware steadily declined between 2014 and 2017, recent findings show that instances of abortion are increasing once again in the state, reflecting a rise on the national level.

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