March 26, 2011 at 2:02 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Maryland House passes trans bill

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.”

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

  • “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?

  • 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.

  • Time for the T to break off from the LGB

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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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