March 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Md. Senate hears testimony on trans bill

More than a dozen witnesses testified for and against a bill to ban discrimination against transgender people in Maryland on Tuesday before the State Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Supporters of SB 212, the Human Relations, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act, said they were hopeful the committee would quickly approve the bill and send it to the full Senate for a vote.

A different version of the legislation died in the Senate last year after several senators who had promised to vote for the bill changed their position and voted to send it back to committee. The Senate action came after the House of Delegates passed the bill, but without a provision banning discrimination against transgender people in the area of public accommodations.

This year’s bill, which has been endorsed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, includes a public accommodations provision. The measure would ban anti-trans discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodation and credit.

“The general sense was we had a very professional, very organized panel that covered a lot of issues with respect to this legislation,” said Sharon Brackett, board chair of the transgender advocacy group Gender Rights Maryland.

Brackett and transgender activist Dana Beyer were among several witnesses affiliated with Gender Rights Maryland who testified in favor of the bill. They said the bill was needed to address widespread discrimination faced by the state’s transgender residents in employment and housing as well as in public accommodations.

Similar to a hearing on the bill last year, witnesses testifying against the bill, among other things, said it would endanger women by allowing male “cross dressers” to use women’s bathrooms in public places. Supporters called that claim baseless, saying no problems have surfaced concerning bathrooms in jurisdictions across the country that have passed similar non-discrimination laws, including Baltimore City and Montgomery County in Maryland.

Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, did not say when he would schedule a committee vote on the bill this year. Under rules of the Maryland General Assembly, the full Senate must approve the bill by March 26 and send it to the House of Delegates in order to keep it alive for this year.

Many of the bill’s supporters believe Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties), who has opposed the bill, orchestrated the effort to send it back to committee last year without an up or down vote. Miller has said he arranged for it to be returned to committee after determining it did not have the votes to pass.

“We hope that Sen. Miller will see his way to allow a vote on the bill this year,” Brackett told the Blade.

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

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