June 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Gender Rights Maryland launches
Dana Beyer

‘There’s never been a trans-focused politically directed organization in Maryland before,’ said Dana Beyer of Gender Rights Maryland. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Things continue percolating for LGBT activist groups in Maryland. Gender Rights Maryland, a new group dedicated to getting trans protection legislation passed, had its launch events last weekend. And this week Equality Maryland announced a strategic plan for how it plans to regroup and rebuild for the rest of the year.

On June 23, Gender Rights held a gathering at Blair Mansion Inn Restaurant in Silver Spring. According to Dana Beyer, the group’s volunteer executive director, about 60 attended.

“It was kicked off with a lot of enthusiasm,” Beyer said. “There was a nice broad spectrum of people there and it was very inspiring. There was definitely a sense that this was a historic event. There’s never been a trans-focused politically directed organization in Maryland before.”

Last weekend, the group’s organizers met with leaders from national LGBT groups based in Washington at the DoubleTree Hotel on Rhode Island Avenue, then on Sunday the board held its first meeting. The organization has a 16-member board but hopes to expand to 18.

Beyer, who co-founded the organization with four other transgender Maryland residents, says the group has been a dream of hers for years. A number of considerations, Beyer says, factored into the timing of the group’s formation —  a public accommodations bill getting further along toward passage (though it ultimately fell one vote shy of what it needed) in the state’s most recent legislative session and the national media attention that a video received showing Maryland resident Chrissy Lee Polis getting beaten in a McDonald’s restaurant in April. Beyer says many in the group have assisted Polis in getting help. They say she’s doing well. Polis attended Baltimore Pride two weekends ago.

Also last week, Equality Maryland announced a six-month “strategic action plan” that the organization’s remaining five board members are enacting. The organization is in the midst of “a thorough self-evaluation” the release said. Recent months have been tumultuous for the group. Former director Morgan Meneses-Sheets was fired in April. Two LGBT bills — one for same-sex marriage and another for transgender accommodations — failed earlier this year. The board is about half the size it was six months ago. Only one person remains on staff, an office manager. Other employees of recent months had contracts that were not renewed, the board said. After June 30, the organization will have two staff members — an office manager and a gender identity field organizer — and plans to retain Lynne Bowman as a contractor and to add Andy Szekeres as a fundraising consultant.

“Over the past two months, the remaining members of the board have undertaken a thorough process of self-evaluation,” said Patrick Wojahn, chair of Equality Maryland Foundation, which leads the organization’s education efforts, in the announcement. “Through individual conversations, over a dozen Listening Tour stops and more than 1,200 responses to our online survey, we have actively gathered input about what people want to see from their statewide equality organization. We have coupled that input with the results of a comprehensive internal review and developed a strong six-month plan that will allow Equality Maryland to become the organization it must be in order to achieve legislative and cultural equality in our state.”

Board Chair Lisa Polyak mentioned several other goals, such as a “major” reconstitution of the board with “more diversity and a bigger skills set,” the hiring — tentatively slated for fall — of a new executive director with a new job description, financial stabilization and “more input from the community about what our mission should be.”

Polyak said board members have left for a variety of reasons. At least one resigned over the handling of Meneses-Sheets’ employment but another, Scott Davenport, moved out of the area and another took on more responsibilities at his job, Polyak said.

“It wouldn’t be fair to characterize it as any one thing,” she said.

Polyak said the formation of Gender Rights Maryland is a “natural evolution for the trans community” and cited other states, such as New York and Massachusetts, that have both state LGBT organizations and separate transgender political groups.

“I think it’s a great thing,” she said. “It ultimately gives more power to the issue of gender identity concerns, which, frankly, just based on numbers, is numerically small. It makes sense that they might have their own organization for protections. … We look forward to working with them.”

Did the Equality Maryland upheaval contribute to the formation of Gender Rights Maryland? Beyer, a former Equality Maryland board member, said “nothing in politics or life is ever completely isolated” and that it’s hard to quantify to what degree one series of events affected her group’s launch.

“Our desire, willingness and determination to start really had nothing to do with Equality Maryland,” she said. “But that’s not to say that the vacuum left by having no trans board members there and the organization having spent most of its political capital on marriage didn’t provide an opening for us to take off and grow … I think it was the time. The time was now for us to grow, regardless of the state of Equality Maryland.”

The group’s main priority is to pass a comprehensive gender identity anti-discrimination bill by the end of the 2012 legislative session.

And has the passage of same-sex marriage in New York cast this year’s Maryland failings in a harsher light? Gov. Martin O’Malley told regional news outlets a stronger stance on his part in support would “have kicked it into the gutter of partisan division.”

Polyak doesn’t buy it.

“When you see executive leadership that is fully invested in the passage of any law, the chances of its success are much higher and that’s what we saw in New York. Gov. Cuomo used his policy tools as well as the bully pulpit and in closed door meetings admonished senators that our families and our relationships are just as valid. He spoke from the heart and there’s no substitute for authenticity. If Gov. O’Malley would show similar heart when he speaks of the commitment to this bill that he says he possesses, if he really put his heart into it and made it part of his legislative package for 2012, it would pass. It’s not a partisan issue. Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Republican, has spoken very movingly of his commitment from a civil rights standpoint and we believe there are those of a similar mind in the House of Delegates.”

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

  • Why do transgender activities command so much attention in The Blade? They’re such a small component of the overall gay population, but their issues seem to be everywhere in print.

    Please help me understand. Thanks.

    • So the Blade shouldn’t report on something as important and newsworthy as the founding of a statewide advocacy organization just because you, personally, find trans issues boring? I am quite, quite sure that the Blade has plenty of articles on gay cis men for you to read, and it’s easy enough to skip articles that don’t seem like they will be interesting to a particular reader.

      By the way, I just checked the front page of the Blade website, and of the dozens of articles listed, there is exactly ONE that is exclusively on trans stuff–this article. So when you say “everywhere,” really you mean that trans people getting ANY attention is too much attention, no?

      I disagree.

    • Perhaps because the violence and discrimination and hate is so outside of any semblance of rational discussion. Even for gay people, the violence afforded to trans is 10x worse. 70% have been sexually assaulted. 40% are chronically unemployed. All report harassment and job losses due to being trans.

      Trans is where gay was 30 years ago. That’s why. Murder and suicide run #1 and #2 year in and year out. Why is that?

      And gay ambivalence, and sometimes, downright intolerance of transfolk doesn’t help either.

    • I think it is because gay and lesbian issues have been addressed and covered in such great depth for a long period of time now that compared to TG issues and activities they are pretty much main stream and open publicly. I think until people get a better understanding of the TG community and it is brought up to speed with the gay/lesbian segment of society it will need a lot more press and a better defining of who is who and what is what within this emerging sub-section. If that makes any sense.

  • The failed Equality Maryland board did a self evaluation? That’s kind of like examining your own belly button rather than visit the oncologist to have cancer diagnosed. No wonder the trans community started their own group–I want a new gay and lesbian group as well.

    Beyer seems to be the only strategic thinker you quote in the article. That’s exactly what is missing from EM in its ‘listening tours’ and biased, un-answerable survey–a real strategic thinker.

    Speaking of which, Washington Blade, where’s your journalistic integrity in terms of critically evaluating EM, the board and this 6 month plan? Should you mention how many of the remaining cliche of board members have been part of firing the last two–you only mention one here, but the real number is two–executive directors? Or how the member survey was gamed to give the exactly the responses the board wanted? Or demand to see the financial statements? Or ask how many people actually attended the listing tours? If CNN reported on world politics this way, we’d all think George W. was correct that the mission was accomplished and Barack is correct that the recovery has begun. Use some critical reporting, Blade editors…

  • Feminists in Maryland have formed a group as well in response to the potential negative implications of an overbroad gender identity bill for females. Marylanders United for Fairness for Females (MUFF) affirms its support for a definition of gender identity in Maryland’s anti-discrimination law that (1) protects people who identify as transgender or transsexual and that (2) does not allow for subjectivity that would enable nontransgender or nontranssexual males (i.e., “cis” males) to access sex-segregated spaces, as sex-segregated spaces are currently permitted – for rational reasons – under Maryland’s anti-discrimination law.

    We support the following definition: “Gender identity” means a person’s identification with the sex opposite her or his physiology or assigned sex at birth, which can be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of a transsexual medical condition, gender incongruence or related condition deemed medically necessary by the American Medical Association.

    We oppose any definition that allows the individual to “self-identify” without any persistence or duration requirement. Further, we oppose any language that suggests or codifies into law that there are ways of expressing one’s self (or behaviors or appearances) that are consistent with or congruent with biological sex, as we believe such language codifies sex stereotypes.

    • I understand where you are going and support your desire to keep out those who might have nefarious motives, such as sexual predators and exhibitionists, etc. But how do you enforce this?

      Are you going to do a panty check? Are you going to ask for their papers? What if it is a male-looking woman? Are you doing to stop her and demand id? Exactly how do you propose to handle this in a practical manner? Are you the thought police?

    • I agree with your definition of gender identity. We must emphasize the medical condition of those with a transsexual medical condition. Where it comes to sex-segregated facilities, this is a medical issue and no more. This is why I feel that gender identity and gender expression need to be separately defined. I agree that “self identification” should not be permitted where it comes to access to segregated facilities. The law does not work that way. Just like in order to get medicare benefits before 65, you have to have a physician prove a disability, a physician should prove a transgender medical condition. Identification would be done through a congruent (MVA) gender marker. Despite what some will say, this will not cause “card checks”, “panty checks”, etc. at public restrooms but it will be the deciding factor when a discrimination case comes before the MCHR.

      I feel that those who are (crossdressing) cis-males have no place in the women’s facilities. Despite what some might think, the gender binary still exists and our culture is not ready to tear down that line any time soon. This does not mean that gender expression should not protected in other aspects of non-discrimination law (behavior outside the workplace, housing [remember: shelters are public accommodation], non-sex segregated public accommodation, credit, real estate transactions, business transactions with state license holders, etc.)

      • If gender expression means fashion, it has no place in anti-discrimination statutes. There are laws on the books in Maryland that ban discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation. Oftem, those laws are sufficient to remedy someone who identifies their own discrimination issue as one of “gender expression.”

    • You’re dreaming Cathy. Maryland can’t and won’t pass gay marriage because of the black fundamentalist/evangelicals and the fear of the legislators at the polls, so how do you possibly expect something like you’re proposing to garner an ounce of consideration? We have way too many regulations and laws on the books now anyway; we don’t need more.

  • Dana, congratulations and I know with you there this will be successful!

  • [“…a public accommodations bill getting further along toward passage (though it ultimately fell one vote shy of what it needed) in the state’s most recent legislative session…”] For the record, the gender identity non-discrimination bill that fell short in the last session did not include “public accommodations.”

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