March 25, 2011 at 11:35 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Md. House committee approves trans bill

A bill that would ban employment and housing discrimination against transgender people in Maryland cleared a second crucial hurdle Friday when a committee of the state’s House of Delegates approved the bill by a vote of 15-8.

The bill now goes to the full House of Delegates, where it must be approved by midnight on Monday to make it eligible to be sent to the State Senate for final approval.

“The great news is we thought the vote would be 14-9 since we had 14 commitments,” said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT group leading efforts on behalf of the bill. “So we actually picked up another supporter.”

The 23-member Committee on Health and Government Operations voted mostly along party lines in approving the bill. Fourteen of the committee’s 15 Democrats voted for the measure. Seven of the eight Republicans on the committee voted no. The sole Republican voting for it was Del. Robert Costa of Anne Arundel County. The lone Democrat voting “no” was John Donaghoue of Washington County.

Among those voting “yes” were gay Dels. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) and Peter Murphy (D-Charles County).

The committee’s action represents the first time a transgender rights bill in Maryland has been reported out of committee for a vote in the state’s House or Senate.

“It looks good on the floor [of the full House],” Meneses-Sheets said. “We have a strong whip count. We need to keep up the work every second until the vote is taken.”

With dozens of bills competing for a vote as the House scrambles to complete its business by the end of the day Monday, activists supporting the transgender rights measure, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, say the next key hurdle was to make sure lawmakers bring it up for a vote.

The bill calls for amending the state’s anti-discrimination laws by adding protection on the basis of gender identity to the area of employment, housing, and credit.

In a statement released on Friday, Equality Maryland said it considers “a few non-substantive amendments” to the bill approved by a subcommittee earlier this week to be “relatively inconsequential.”

The statement said one of the amendments modified the bill’s definition of gender identity.

“This definition will provide protection both for a person’s gender identity as well as the way in which they express their gender in terms of presentation,” the statement says. “Equality Maryland worked with the subcommittee and committee to ensure that both areas would be covered under the bill’s definition.”

According to Meneses-Sheets, supporters of the bill in the State Senate, including gay Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) were committed to take immediate steps to shepherd the bill through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the Senate floor if it clears a vote by the House this weekend.

Some transgender activists, including members of the group Trans Maryland, oppose the bill on grounds that it doesn’t include protection in the category of public accommodations. The bill’s author and lead sponsor in the House, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties), said she removed a public accommodations provision after determining it was the only way to obtain enough votes to pass the measure this year.

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

  • Today, we move one step closer for the transgender community being upgraded from fifth-class citizens to forth-class citizens. Their counterparts in the gay, lesbian and bisexual cis-gender community are currently enjoying third-class status.

    While today’s vote moves some protections forward, they are insufficent to maintain basic employment protections when the workplace is not a private office. This bill provides no protection for those employed as drivers, those who use hotel rooms as a part of their jobs or those who work in environments where restrooms are common among multiple employers or in a public access area.

    Despite housing protections, the current bill language does not protect gender identity to assure admittance in emergency homeless and domestic violence shelters or will result in people being placed in the shelter area based on their birth gender and not their identified and presented gender subjecting them to the risk of sexual assault. The federal courts have already stated that emergency overnight shelters are considered “lodging” and therefore a public accommodation not subject to the Fair Housing Act.

    The organizations promoting HB-235 are using an incrementalism strategy to eventually achieve public accommodations. I personally do not think that public accommodations could stand on its own as it would be seen as a sole “bathroom bill”.

    The only other state that has ever used an incrementalism approach is California and they learned very quickly that employment without public accommodations did not work. Gender identity was eventually covered under the Unruh Act not by adding gender identity as a protected class but by changing the definition of “sex” to include gender identity.

    This law as written is going to open the door to litigation by transgender people who work in environments without non-exclusive public facilities or are required to use off-site public accommodations in the performance of their job functions. This will put an undue burden on employers that now have to field discrimination complaints internally within their own organizations. This is wasted time.

    This will only make employers not want to hire transgender people but find another reason not to.

    We are at a time when many transgender people are out of work not just because of employment discrimination based on gender identity but also due to the general state of the economy, no guarantees that public or private facilities can be accessed to look for work, no guarantees that access to public transportation will be granted and the lack of access to higher education due to discrimination and harassment.

    If this bill passes, we are sending the message that it is OK to discriminate public accommodations. Even though it is OK to discriminate right now, this law will only highlight the alleged legitimacy of denying transsexual and intersex people access to the basic functions of life.

  • Trans People kicked to the curb

    Equality Maryland blew the same-sex marriage bill and they’re screwing this up too. They don’ t want to rock the boat and this is what the result is. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Incrementalism is for the birds. Take a chance and include public accommodations. Montgomery County included public accommodations even after the conservative right tore their legislation apart. Everyone thinks the trans community can wait and wait and wait for meaningful protections when we need real protections now.

  • The reason MoCo included PA was because every bill to that date was drafted to be inclusive and only modified later based on local circumstances. CA, CO and HI are examples of those modifications. The Council was then barraged by hate mail, but we stood firm because of Councilmember Trachtenberg’s steadfast leadership.

    Here the bill was informally introduced in the House in its usual comprehensive form, the blowback was fierce, and there was no support to maintain it as a comprehensive act. The trans community was unaware, the gay community was otherwise occupied with marriage, and by the time the problem was recognized it was too late.

    You should know that it was killed every year during the last term for reasons not associated with the bathroom terrorism theme. There have been few profiles in courage associated with this legislation outside of Delegate Pena-Melnyk.

  • They had to strip out Public Accommodations to get a few crucial votes. Which is why it was only passed by the razor-sharp margin of… 15-8 in committee. And 86-54 in the house.

    EQMD’s publicity said this was our “lunch counter moment”. Indeed it is, because as the result of this bill, trans people can be excluded from lunch counters, from using drinking fountains, from being treated in emergency rooms, and kept off the bus completely rather than allowed to sit at the back. It legitimises such forms of discrimination as being consistent with “Equality”. But only for trans people, to treat Gays like that would be highly illegal, and the bill strengthens those provisions.

    • Zoe, you know better. Marriage was pulled not because the vote would have been close, but because of the fear that had it been held the 70 known supporters would have dwindled to 60 or less. I still disagree with that move, but it was tactical.
      Similarly, the vote in HGO for a comprehensive bill would not have been 15-8, it might have been 8-15 had the Chair even allowed a vote, which he would not have. That’s the way the system worked. The effort needed to have been made in HGO last fall, a concerted effort of education and outreach, and it didn’t happen.

      If EqMD called this “the lunch counter moment” then that was a terrible misstatement. Few are happy about this bill, and that includes the ED of EqMD.

      • Dana, it’s now going to be your part-time job to clarify the misinformation being put out there so cavalierly (or maybe intentionally as a tactical move). That sucks. But thanks for teaching us all that sometimes a birdseye view is very limited.

  • Zoe – let’s see what happens in the Senate.

    Wow many in the trans community take no responsibility for this and instead put all the blame on Equality Maryland, a group that they have believed has treated them shabbily for a decade yet they continue to fully rely on them and bitch when it doesn’t work out. You have a lot of smart people in your community, figure out how to win without or with Equality Maryland. Complaining year after year about horrible gays not taking you where you need to go is quite the victim mentality and quite ineffective. Lead, work, lobby, donate (in MD) – don’t wait until the 11th hour and complain.

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