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Maryland House passes trans bill

Protection act has supporters in the Senate; measure passed by wide margin

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The Maryland House of Delegates voted 86-52 on Saturday to pass legislation that would ban discrimination against transgender Marylanders in the area of employment, housing and credit.

The vote came after a 50-minute debate in which delegates supporting the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act urged their colleagues to help end what they called an injustice against fellow citizens whom they said have been denied jobs and housing solely because of their gender identity.

“This is a huge demonstration in support of fairness today,” said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, the state LGBT group that led lobbying efforts to pass the bill.

“We still have work to do,” she said. “We’ve got to get it through the Senate. But we are overjoyed with the outcome today.”

Meneses-Sheets and other advocates for the bill said they were hopeful the measure would clear the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the next week and receive a favorable vote in the full Senate.

The Maryland Legislature adjourns for the year on April 11, and all legislation must clear both houses before then.

Saturday’s vote in favor of the gender identity bill in the 141-member House fell largely along party lines. Eighty-five Democrats and just one Republican voted for the bill. Forty Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against it. Three delegates — two Republicans and one Democrat — were absent and did not vote.

The House’s approval of the gender identity bill by a sold 34-vote margin appears to indicate that transgender rights, while controversial, hasn’t elicited the intensity of opposition that surfaced over a Maryland same-sex marriage bill.

A bill calling for legalizing civil marriage for same-sex couples died in the House of Delegates two weeks ago when Democratic leaders withdrew the bill from the floor after determining they did not have the votes to pass it. The Maryland Senate passed the bill by a vote of 25-21 on Feb. 25.

Some activists feared that the heated controversy over the decision to withdraw the marriage bill before a vote might make delegates less likely to support any LGBT-related bill, including a transgender rights bill.

A number of House Democrats who wavered over or announced plans to drop their support of the marriage bill voted for the gender identity bill on Saturday. Among them were Dels. Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County), Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George’s County) and Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City).

During Saturday’s floor debate over the gender identity bill, opponents, including Del. Joseph Minnick (D-Baltimore County) and Del. Richard Impallaria (R-Baltimore and Harford Counties) raised concerns that the bill would enable men who “cross dress” as women to create disturbances in the workplace or threaten women in public or workplace bathrooms.

“Every woman should be appalled by this legislation,” said Minnick, who told of once encountering a male-to-female transgender person in a public men’s bathroom at the state capital in the 1990s.

“That left a lasting impression on me,” he said. “The way that person was dressed [he] could have very easily gone into the lady’s room and used the lady’s facility. Now I don’t think that’s what you want with this kind of legislation.”

A few of the delegates opposing the bill pointed to the 1970s television program M.A.S.H., which included a character named Maxwell Klinger. They noted the Klinger character dressed in female clothes at a U.S. Army installation in Korea during the Korean War as a ploy to obtain a “Section 8” psychiatric discharge from the military.

Minnick said the gender identity bill could hurt businesses by allowing cross dressing “scammers” like the Klinger character to create problems at the workplace and file a lawsuit if the employer sought to fire the person.

Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), who served as floor leader for the bill, disputed claims that it would impact public bathrooms, saying the legislation did not include a public accommodations provision and would make no changes in the availability of public bathrooms to transgender people.

When asked by opponents whether transgender employees protected under the bill’s employment non-discrimination provision would have access to workplace bathrooms, Morhaim said that would be left to the discretion of an employer.

Del. Kirill Reznick (D-Montgomery County), a supporter of the bill, said that while public bathrooms were not covered in the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act, transgender non-discrimination laws that do include public accommodations protections have not created problems — either related to bathrooms or at the workplace.

“The reality is 12 states have passed broader protections that this bill,” he said. “A hundred and thirty-four jurisdictions — counties and cities across this country — have boarder protections than this bill. And we have not heard of one instance where businesses have had to build a third bathroom, where children or women have been attacked and these protections were used as a defense — not one case in 10 years,” he said.

Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties), the author and lead sponsor of the bill, expressed dismay over what she called “unfounded” assertions that transgender people cause problems at the workplace or in bathrooms.

“In the last few minutes I have heard some things that are truly sad,” she said. “The reason why we need this bill is because of what you heard today. People have preconceived ideas and prejudices.”

Pena-Melnyk said she was troubled that opponents were basing much of their opposition on perceived problems that could not result from the bill, in part, because she removed a public accommodations provision to expand the support needed to pass the bill.

“And I did so because the political reality is that I could not have gotten the bill out — look at the discussion today — if I had public accommodations in it,” she said. “But it gives you protections.”

Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), one of seven openly lesbian or gay members of the House of Delegates, noted that transgender protections were omitted entirely from a Maryland law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation that the legislature passed 10 years ago.

“It was a calculated decision and one that I frankly regret,” she said, referring to the omission of a transgender provision. “I think it was the wrong decision. And this bill today, House Bill 235, rights a very bad wrong that we need to do,” she said. “And I ask you to support House Bill 235, a very important step forward to end discrimination in Maryland.”

Transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer, who ran for a seat in the House of Delegates last year, called approval of the bill by the House historic.

“We still have two more votes to go to get this bill done and then we need to work on adding public accommodations next year,” she said. “Actually, the only statement from the opponents with which I agree was, you know, if you give them this now they will come back and say they want full civil rights. And, yeah, that’s the case. We want full civil rights, and we’ll get them one step at a time.”

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Kat

    March 26, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    “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.”

    Hey “staff,” how about a little analysis?

    You’re uncritically accepting Pena-Melnyk’s claim that making the bill into a Barney ‘penis panic’ Frank / ‘not my shower’ people bill was the only way it would pass – yet you began the piece by noting that it passed by a huge margin.

    While it is mathematically possible that there were *that* many votes that would have swung the other way with the inclusion of public accommodations, wouldn’t it be a sign of journalistic integrity to show some indication that you made some effort to investigate whether the Pena-Melnyk/’Equality’ Maryland claims about dropping public accommodations being a necessity were based on facts or on Morgan Meneses-Sheets’ resume’s desire to make sure that one bill that she and ‘Equality’ Maryland can claim is pro-LGBT (even though HB 235 is anything but pro-trans) passes in 2011?

  2. Anonymous

    March 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Kat, you forgot about the Senate. Passage in the house by a good margin has nothing to do with the Senate.

    And why the personal attacks? Are we that twisted that we look to behead our allies instead of focusing on the real enemies and opponents? So counter-productive. Have you, Kat, dedicated your professional life and worked like a dog 60-hr weeks to get a transgender rights bill passed in MD? Answer: No. If you can’t determine your friends from your enemies and seek to put all your energy into taking down your friends instead of your enemies, this is going to be a long and ugly road.

    Instead of complaining incessantly about Equality Maryland, why don’t you get out and organize and make public accommodations happen since you think it is so easy? You certainly are happy to rely on an organization who you think is so ineffective and evil.

    Reality check: Equality Maryland is funded by gay people who want marriage rights. Those people refuse to give money, Equality Maryland ceases to exist.

    • Kat

      March 27, 2011 at 12:42 am

      Why the anonymity?

      • Anonymous

        March 27, 2011 at 11:07 am

        “Deep Throat” was taken…..

  3. Anonymous

    March 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Time for the T to break off from the LGB

    • Kat

      March 27, 2011 at 1:36 am

      Actually, I think its time for an anniversary par-tay!

      After all, Maryland’s been a “discrimination-free zone” for a decade now.

  4. Jenna Fischetti

    March 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    TransMaryland’s position to not support for HB235 is based on the lack of basic human rights protections. An anti-discrimination bill needs to provide real and meaningful deterrents to the sort of real and meaningful discriminations the members of Maryland’s transgender community faces. 13 states and the District of Columbia offer such complete protections, protections which include public accommodations. Not once in the history of transgender specific civil rights has a state enacted protections for public accommodations only, once a prior law was in place.

    Because of such a flawed approach and because the provisions were removed by professed allies to the transgender community, it is the stance of TransMaryland to not support our continued discrimination and we reject non transgender persons seeking to act on our behalf.

    HB235 creates yet a further inequity in the State of Maryland by setting up Baltimore City and Montgomery County, 25% of the states population base, as the only public area where transgender Marylanders can enjoy complete freedom from oppression and discrimination. In the words of Glendora Hughes Maryland’s General Counsel at the Maryland Commission on Human Relations,

    “Yes, Baltimore City and Montgomery County covers gender identity. So now we have an inequity in the State of Maryland. Based on your geography, where you live will determine whether you have protection against being discriminated against.”

    HB 235 only perpetuates this inequity.

    We continue to urge lawmakers to support Senator’s Rich Madaleno’s public statement on HB235:

    “I have been the lead sponsor or lead cosponsor of the Gender Identity Antidiscrimination Act for the past four years. In advance of the 2011 Session, I had a bill drafted that is identical to the bill I had introduced previously. This draft prohibited discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. However, our advocacy coalition asked me to not introduce the bill, preferring a strategy of pursuing a House bill alone. This approach has not diminished my commitment to enacting these much needed protections, and I urge the House of Delegates to pass HB 235, with an amendment that prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals regarding public accommodations.

    Providing transgender individuals with basic protections against discrimination is long overdue. Although much of the media attention this legislative session has centered on marriage equality, we cannot let that debate overshadow efforts to enact these essential protections. Protection against discrimination, including gender identity discrimination, is a basic human right. Our state laws must reflect the values of equality and equal opportunity – values that are central to who we are as Americans.

    Now is the time for Maryland to join thirteen other states, Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, and Baltimore City in protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. In 2007, Governor O’Malley signed an executive order adding protections against discrimination to our state personnel policies. We now must pass a statewide law that protects transgender individuals from discrimination when seeking employment, housing, and public accommodations.”

    We support nothing less.

    Jenna Fischetti
    TransMaryland.org

  5. blue-heron

    March 27, 2011 at 9:59 am

    I will second the statement that “HB 235 only perpetuates this inequity”.

    Legislators creating legislation that provides only a smidgen of the rights and liberties that other American Citizens enjoy are not “Creating Equality” but “Perpetuating Inequality”.

    Legislators seeem to relinquish the job of acting in the interest of All citizens and within the bounds of the US Constitution. There is only the accountability of the vote.

  6. Robin

    March 28, 2011 at 10:34 am

    This happens all the time (e.g., 3 measley statutes like the Medical Decision-Making Act were put in place several years ago). You can be a purist and wait for 100% rights though, but how do you take away rights from others in your community who want them now because you have a particular political bent or strategy?

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17th Street High Heel Race draws large crowd

D.C. Mayor, three Council members, police chief mingle with drag queens

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34th annual High Heel Race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Close to 1,000 spectators turned out Tuesday night to watch D.C.’s 34th Annual 17th Street High Heel Race in which several dozen men dressed in drag and wearing colorful high heel shoes raced along a three-block stretch of 17th Street near Dupont Circle.

As she has in past years, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose office organizes the annual event, gave the official signal for the runners to start the race from a stage at the intersection of 17th and R streets, N.W. 

Joining the mayor on the stage was Japer Bowles, who Bowser recently named as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which plays the lead role in organizing the High Heel Race. 

Also appearing on stage after being introduced by Bowser were D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2).

Bowser, who along with the three Council members delivered brief remarks before the start of the race, said the event highlights the city’s diversity and resilience coming after over a year of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we want the world to know – that even in a pandemic, even when we had to trim the budget, we stayed focused on how we can make life better for our LGBTQ community,” Bowser told the crowd. “And we’re going to keep on doing it,” she said. “We’re investing in making sure everybody in our community is accepted and safe.”

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee, who walked along the three-block section of 17th Street before the race began, was greeted warmly by bystanders, some of whom called out his name to welcome him to what has become the city’s largest Halloween celebration.

“This is a great event,” Contee told the Washington Blade. “I enjoy coming out to be among D.C. residents and all who find our D.C. culture,” he said. “It’s just a great evening, so we’re happy to be out here supporting our community.”

Members of the D.C. police LGBT Liaison Unit were among the police contingent on duty at the event and overseeing the closing of the streets surrounding 17th Street.

Like past years, many of the race participants and dozens of others dressed in Halloween costumes paraded up and down 17th Street beginning at 6:30 p.m., more than two hours before the start of the race, which was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.  

However, the mayor this year gave the signal to start the race at about 8:35 p.m. Although a large number of drag runners participated in the race, some who planned to join the race didn’t make it to the starting line in time because they expected the race to begin at 9 p.m. as advertised, according to people in the crowd who knew those who missed the race.

To ensure that everyone had an opportunity to participate, Bowles and others from the mayor’s office agreed to hold a second race about a half hour after the first one. The number of participants in the second race appeared to be about the same as those who joined the first race, indicating many of the drag participants ran twice.

“This is a special treat,” said one bystander. “We got to see two races instead of one.” 

The High Heel Race was cancelled last year due to restrictions related to the COVID pandemic. Many in the crowd watching the race on Tuesday night said they were delighted the city decided to go ahead with the event this year at a time when other large events continue to be canceled or postponed.

Also similar to past years when the High Heel Race took place, the restaurants and bars that line 17th Street were filled on Tuesday night, including the gay bars JR.’s and Windows as well as the longtime LGBTQ-friendly Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse.

Prior to the mayor’s arrival, gay local radio and TV personality Jimmy Alexander of DCW 50 TV served as host to a drag show and costume contest on the stage. DCW 50 also set up and hosted a separate stage on the sidewalk next to JR.’s bar in which race participants and others dressed in costumes were invited to have their pictures taken and provided with copies of the photos of themselves.

“I think it’s amazing,” Bowser told the Blade after the completion of the first race. “It’s good to be back. It was tough missing a year of activities,” she said referring to the business shutdowns brought about by the pandemic. “We had a lot of great, beautiful racers. And so, I’m really excited about it.”

To see more photos from this event, click here.

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Gay attorney’s plans to run for Del. Senate foiled by redistricting

Activists say move will ‘dilute’ LGBTQ vote

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Mitch Crane, gay news, Washington Blade
Gay Democratic activist Mitch Crane. (Photo courtesy Crane)

Plans by Delaware gay attorney and Democratic Party activist Mitch Crane to run for a seat in the Delaware State Senate in a district that included areas surrounding the town of Lewes, where Crane lives, and Rehoboth Beach ended abruptly this week when state officials approved a redistricting plan that removes Crane’s residence from the district.

The seat for which Crane planned to run is in Delaware’s 6th Senate District which, in addition to Lewes and Rehoboth, includes the towns of Dewey Beach, Harbeson, Milton, and surrounding areas, according to the state Senate’s website. 

The seat is currently held by Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez, a moderate Republican who became the first Hispanic American elected to the Delaware Senate in 2012. Lopez announced in July that he would not seek re-election in 2022. 

The redistricting plan, which was approved by leaders of the Democratic-controlled Delaware General Assembly, places the section of the Lewes postal district where Crane lives into the 19th Senate District. Crane said that district is in a heavily Republican and conservative part of the state dominated by supporters of President Donald Trump who remain Trump supporters.

Under Delaware law, changes in the district lines of state Senate and House districts, which takes place every 10 years following the U.S. Census count, are decided by the Delaware General Assembly, which is the state legislative body.

Crane told the Washington Blade that neither he nor any other Democrat would have a realistic chance of winning the State Senate seat next year in the 19th District.

“Jesus could not win in that district if he was a Democrat,” said Crane.

Crane said a Democratic candidate could win next year in the reconfigured 6th Senate District now that incumbent Lopez will not be seeking re-election.

The Cape Gazette, the Delaware newspaper, reported in an Oct. 22 story that Crane was one of at least two witnesses that testified at a two-day virtual hearing held Oct. 18-19 by a State Senate committee, that the proposed redistricting would dilute the LGBTQ vote in the 6th District and the draft proposal should be changed.

 “The proposed lines remove a significant percentage of the LGBTQ residents from the current 6th District where most of such residents of southern Delaware live and place them in the 19th District which has a smaller such population,” the Cape Gazette quoted Crane telling the committee. “By doing so, it dilutes the impact of the gay community which shares political beliefs,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

“The proposed lines dilute the voting power of the LGBTQ community in addition to others who respect diversity,” the Cape Gazette quoted 6th District resident Sandy Spence as telling the committee. 

In an Oct. 10 email sent to potential supporters before the redistricting plan was approved, Crane said he believes he has the experience and record that make him a strong candidate for the state Senate seat. He is a former chair of the Sussex County Democratic Party, where Rehoboth and Lewes are located; and he currently serves as an adjunct professor at Delaware State University’s graduate school, where he teaches American Governance and Administration.

He is a past president of the Delaware Stonewall PAC, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and he’s the state’s former Deputy Insurance Commissioner.

 “I intend to focus on smart growth in Sussex County; work on the problems of homelessness and the need for affordable housing; and assuring that this district receives its fair portion of tax dollars,” he said in his Oct. 10 email message announcing his candidacy.

Crane said he posted a Facebook message on Oct. 26 informing supporters that the redrawn district lines removed him from the district, and he is no longer a candidate.

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MSNBC’s Capehart to host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch Nov. 6

Ashland Johnson to serve as keynote speaker

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Gay journalist Jonathan Capehart will host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pulitzer Prizing-winning gay journalist Jonathan Capehart, the anchor of MSNBC’s “Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart,” will serve as host for the 24th Annual SMYAL Fall Brunch scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6, at D.C.’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The annual Fall Brunch serves as one of the largest fundraising events for SMYAL, which advocates and provides services for LGBTQ youth in the D.C. metropolitan area. 

“Each year, a community of advocates, changemakers, and supporters comes together at the Fall Brunch to raise much-needed funds to support and expand critical programs and services for queer and trans youth in the DMV area,” a statement released by the organization says.

The statement says attorney and former Division I women’s collegiate basketball athlete Ashland Johnson will be the keynote speaker at the SMYAL Fall Brunch. Johnson founded the sports project called The Inclusion Playbook, which advocates for racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion in sports.

Other speakers include Zahra Wardrick, a SMYAL program participant and youth poet; and Leandra Nichola, a parent of attendees of Little SMYALs, a program that SMYAL says provides support for “the youngest members of the LGBTQ community” at ages 6-12. The SMYAL statement says Nichola is the owner and general manager of the Takoma Park, Md., based café, bar, retail, and bubble tea shop called Main Street Pearl.

According to the statement, the SMYAL Fall Brunch, including a planned silent auction, will be live streamed through SMYAL’s Facebook page for participants who may not be able to attend in person. For those attending the event in person, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required, and masks will also be required for all attendees when not actively eating or drinking, the statement says.

The statement says that for attendees and supporters, the Fall Brunch is “a community celebration of how your support has not only made it possible for SMYAL to continue to serve LGBTQ youth through these challenging times, it’s allowed our programs to grow and deepen.”

Adds the statement, “From affirming mental health support and housing to fostering community spaces and youth leadership training, we will continue to be there for queer and trans youth together.”

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