March 28, 2011 at 11:03 am EDT | by Kevin Naff
All eyes on key lawmaker as Md. Senate considers trans bill

As the Maryland Senate prepares to debate a bill that would bar discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment and credit, some supporters are concerned about the role Sen. Brian Frosh will play in its fate.

Frosh, a Democrat from Montgomery County, chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which must vote to report the bill to the floor. The legislative session ends April 11, so time is running short and any delay in committee could doom the measure this year.

“I would encourage the LGBT and allied community to put their energy and focus on Sen. Frosh, who year after year has bottled up this bill in committee,” said Dan Furmansky, former executive director of Equality Maryland who has been working full time for the past month with pro-LGBT organizations in Annapolis on behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Association. “Things are fluid … I wouldn’t be surprised if he schedules a late hearing so time runs out.”

Furmansky said that Frosh refused to bring a similar bill to a vote in 2009, even though Equality Maryland had requested it. Now that the full House has passed the measure, Furmansky said he hopes Frosh will schedule a committee vote as soon as possible.

“We were willing to take our chances in 2009 because we felt it was time for legislators to be on the record,” Furmansky said. “Frosh must take this vote and not wait until the end of the legislative session so Sen. Mike Miller can find the time to schedule a floor vote.”

Furmansky said that although he has not been involved in whip counts for the bill, he is confident the full Senate would pass it. Another knowledgeable source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed with that assessment and said advocates are confident they have the votes in the full body.

The bill, known as the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, passed the House of Delegates on Saturday by an 86-52 vote that fell largely along party lines. It has drawn criticism from some transgender activists and bloggers upset that a provision covering public accommodations was stripped from the bill. 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 the provision after determining it was the only way to obtain enough votes to pass the measure this year.

“It’s unfortunate the community couldn’t come together and build consensus over a unified direction forward this year,” Furmansky said. “But as a cisgender individual, I feel my responsibility is to support what a majority of transgender Marylanders support, which is movement of this bill even though it is far from ideal.”

“Cisgender” refers to individuals whose gender identity coincides with the roles and behaviors typically associated with that gender.

Equality Maryland has said it would seek to add the public accommodations language in next year’s session if this bill is passed. But critics have noted that such a strategy hasn’t been tried in the 13 states that have enacted similar bans on transgender bias.

“I think it’s a multi-year process to add public accommodations back in,” Furmansky said. “It can be done but it won’t be easy.”

Frosh’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The Blade will update this story as developments warrant.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

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