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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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District of Columbia

D.C. ceremony welcomes affirming church as ‘full standing’ UCC congregation

Bishop Abrams officially installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

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Bishop Allyson Abrams (far right) was installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

The Mt. Rainier, Md.-based Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which Washington Blade readers have selected for five years as the D.C. area’s Best LGBTQ Church, was honored as an official United Church of Christ congregation in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street in D.C.

The ceremony, organized by the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ, which admitted Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as a UCC congregation last fall, also officially installed lesbian Bishop Allyson Abrams as pastor of the now UCC-affiliated Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

Abrams founded Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in 2014 at its original location in Silver Spring, Md., as a nondenominational Protestant church that she declared would be a welcoming and affirming congregation “where all of God’s children are welcomed,” including LGBTQ people of faith. Washington Blade readers have also named Abrams the D.C. area’s Best Clergy for seven years.

Although many consider Empowerment Liberation Cathedral a “gay” church, one of its spokespersons, Kendrick Keys, told the Washington Blade ELC considers itself a welcoming church and congregation open to everyone, even though he said a majority but not all of its members are LGBTQ.  

A biography of Abrams prepared by the LGBTQ Religion Archives Network says her founding of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral came one year after she resigned as pastor of the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit in 2013 and two years after she was consecrated as a bishop at Pneuma Christian Fellowship, a religious order in Orange County, Calif.

The biography says Abrams created a stir in 2013 shortly before her resignation as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church, when she announced to the congregation that she had just married another female bishop, Diana Williams, who at the time was Bishop Emeritus of the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

A short time after that, Abrams and Williams moved to the D.C.-Maryland area where Abrams mapped out plans to open the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral known as ELC.

 “Bishop Abrams came to the Washington, D.C. area with a new blitz about her marriage to another female bishop,” a statement released by ELC says. “She was outcast by many organizations and religious groups for declaring you could be gay and Christian,” the statement says.

“When Abrams decided to open a church in the Washington Metropolitan Area many media outlets discussed her keeping her faith and opening a church for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised from the church and from their legacies in churches across America,” the statement continues.

“Bishop Abrams has remained on the forefront of ministry and has united with a denomination that believes in justice and equality for all – the United Church of Christ,” says the statement.

It was referring to the United Church of Christ’s status as an LGBTQ-affirming church that welcomes LGBTQ people into its services and congregations.

A separate ELC statement says among those attending and participating in the Feb. 25 ceremony at Plymouth Church were pastors, bishops, ministers, parishioners, community leaders, organizations affiliated with ELC and the United Church of Christ’s Potomac Association.

Among them was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, who delivered a statement from Bowser.

“As Mayor of Washington, D.C., I congratulate Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as you join the United Church of Christ (UCC) family and install Bishop Alyson Abrams as pastor,” the statement says. “As you gather to celebrate this momentous occasion, may both pastor and congregation be inspired to even higher heights of achievement and service to our communities,” the mayor’s statement says.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival, issued its own statement congratulating Empowerment Liberation Cathedral. The statement mentions that in 2016, Capital Pride honored Bishop Abrams as a Capital Pride Hero “in acknowledgement of her work in the faith community for the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians.”

ELC spokesperson Keys said the church holds its weekly Sunday services at the Mt. Rainier Arts Center at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.

He said a nonprofit community services organization created by ELC called Empowerment Justice Center, is located at 1015 15th Street, N.W., Room 653 in D.C. The church office is also at that location, Keys said. 

Further information about church services and events can be obtained by contacting ELC at 202-798-4371 or at empowermentliberationcathedral.org.

But Keys said the church’s location in Maryland had not been updated on the website, which lists its former location in Lanham, Md., rather than its current location in Mt. Rainier.

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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