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Maryland trans bill set to die in committee

Lawmakers linked it to marriage, opposed two ‘gay bills’ in one year

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Dana Beyer

Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, blamed Senate President Thomas V. Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) for the trans bill’s demise. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A bill in the Maryland Legislature aimed at banning discrimination against transgender people in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations is expected to die in committee on Monday, ending chances for passing it for the sixth year in a row.

The Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act, SB 212, is stalled in the legislature’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, with no indication that Senate leaders plan to bring it up for a vote by March 26. That date has been long established as the deadline for one of the legislature’s two bodies to approve all bills in time for consideration by the other body.

“I actually feel the political atmosphere has improved markedly for gender identity civil rights,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), one of the lead sponsors of the bill.

“But the problem is we did same-sex marriage and for some unfathomable reason people seem to think we can’t do both of these bills in the same session,” Raskin told the Blade. “As a number of members said to me, we can’t do two gay bills in one session.”

Raskin was referring to the Maryland Legislature’s approval earlier this year of the Civil Marriage Protection Act, which calls for legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. That bill is expected to come before voters in a referendum in November.

Raskin and other longtime supporters of the transgender bill say they have tried repeatedly to dispel the view that the trans measure is a “gay” bill or that it’s linked to same-sex marriage.

Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, a statewide transgender advocacy organization that led efforts to pass the trans bill this year, blamed Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) for the bill’s demise. According to Beyer, knowledgeable sources at the state capital in Annapolis say Miller put out the word that the bill should not come up for a vote.

Beyer noted that Miller’s stance is the opposite of the posture he took on the marriage bill. Miller voted against the marriage bill but allowed it to come up for a vote and reportedly blocked efforts to derail the bill with a filibuster.

“If Miller doesn’t want it, it doesn’t happen,” Beyer said. “It doesn’t matter what the other senators want.”

Other advocates for the bill, who asked not to be identified, said they believe Miller was blocking a vote on the bill in committee because he believes it doesn’t have the votes to pass and he prefers not to have Democratic leaders lose on a controversial vote like this one.

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County) has authority under Senate rules to bring all bills up for a vote in his committee. Beyer and others sharing her view believe Frosh defers to Miller on controversial bills such as the transgender measure, even though his constituents in progressive-leaning Montgomery County support the bill.

“Miller said I will let the marriage bill come to a vote and I will protect it, I will prevent a filibuster,” Beyer said. “I won’t vote for it but I will not allow people to kill it. If he would do that for us we would get our bill passed.”

Miller, Frosh and spokespersons for the two failed to immediately return calls

Last year, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a version of the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act that lacked a public accommodations provision. Supporters in the House said they didn’t believe it could pass with such a provision. The bill died in the Senate last year after most supporters joined opponents and voted to pull it from the Senate floor and send it back to committee.

This year, at the strong request of Gender Identity Maryland, the bill’s sponsors agreed to include the public accommodations clause. House leaders announced earlier this year that they would not go through the exercise of passing it again only to have it defeated in the Senate. So they decided to not bring up the bill until or unless it first cleared the Senate.

One supporter asking not to be identified said bringing the bill to the Senate, which couldn’t pass it last year, with a public accommodations clause made it “that much more difficult” to secure Senate passage this year.

Asked if he thought the trans bill could pass in the Senate this year if it were brought up for a vote, Raskin said, “I haven’t done any kind of whip count on it. But my gut tells me the votes are there – narrowly, but they’re there.”

Raskin added, “I am still hopeful that we can pull a rabbit out of the hat before the end of the session. And if not, I’m feeling very good about the prospects for passage next year.”

Carrie Evans, executive director of the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland, said at the request of Gender Rights Maryland, her group didn’t take the lead role in lobbying for the trans bill this year.

“Of course it’s disappointing,” Evans said. “This is one of our highest priorities – to pass this bill. We continue just like with marriage. We clearly don’t give up. We’re going to regroup and we have a strong coalition working on this bill.”

State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), who is gay and another of the lead supporters of the transgender bill, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. Last year Madaleno strongly criticized his colleagues’ decision to send the bill back to committee rather than bring it up for a floor vote.

Beyer and Jenna Fischetti, director of the Baltimore-based advocacy group TransMaryland, said that while transgender non-discrimination legislation has stalled in the state legislature, trans non-discrimination bills have passed in four important jurisdictions in the state, including Montgomery County, Howard County, Baltimore County and Baltimore City.

The two said those non-discrimination measures cover close to 50 percent of the state’s population. Beyer said she believes 95 percent of the state’s transgender people live in those four jurisdictions.

“So in that respect, practically speaking, we’ve done the job,” Beyer said.

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Glenn Youngkin sworn in as Va. governor

Republican backed teacher who opposed trans student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin at his swearing in in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 15, 2022 (YouTube screenshot)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office on Saturday amid concerns that he will seek to curtail LGBTQ rights in the state.

“Today we gather not as individuals, not as Republicans and Democrats,” said Youngkin after his swearing in. “Today we gather as Virginians.”

Former Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are among those who attended the ceremony that took place at the State Capitol. Terry McAuliffe, who Youngkin defeated in the general election, did not attend because of a COVID-19 scare.

Youngkin during his campaign against McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin on Thursday named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

“We will remove politics from the classroom and focus on the essentials,” said Youngkin in his inaugural speech, without specifically mentioning LGBTQ students.

He added “parents should have a say in what is taught in schools.”

Youngkin has also expressed his opposition to marriage equality, but stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and would “support that” as governor.

Lieutenant Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares also took office on Saturday.

Winsome, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, is the first woman and first female of color elected lieutenant governor. Miyares, a former House member whose mother was born in Cuba, is Virginia’s first Latino attorney general.

Youngkin in his inaugural speech noted “the people of Virginia just elected the most diverse leadership” in the state’s history. Youngkin’s first executive order ends “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia schools) and other “divisive concepts” in Virginia’s public schools.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Wednesday.

Republicans control the House by a 52-48 margin. Democrats have a 21-19 edge in the Virginia Senate.

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Va. school board names new chair who called for burning books

Kirk Twigg backed torching of materials with “sexually explicit” content

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(Screenshot via WUSA)

The Spotsylvania County School Board voted Monday to name Kirk Twigg, who advocated for burning books he deemed “sexually explicit” in November, as its new chair. 

His win gives conservatives the majority on the board as Republicans across the country continue an effort to ban books dealing with LGBTQ issues and racism from schools. 

Spotsylvania County has been involved in the controversy from the beginning, voting last year to remove books containing “sexually explicit” materials — only to rescind the order a week later.  

Monday’s board meeting, Twigg’s first as chair, would prove to be disorganized and, at times, unruly. 

Twigg’s first order of business was to call an unscheduled, closed-door session, which may have violated Virginia’s open meeting requirements. According to Virginia Code, a closed meeting cannot be called without a public body approving a motion that states the subject matter and the purpose of the meeting, as well as an applicable exemption from open meeting requirements.    

After the board returned from the closed-door session, Twigg said well-regarded Superintendent Dr. Scott Baker would be fired without cause. Baker had already announced he would be resigning at the end of the school year in December. 

After Baker decided to resign, a longtime Spotsylvania resident penned a letter in the Free Lance-Star, calling him “the finest superintendent, by far.”

“Dr. Baker is trusted and respected by parents, students and employees of Spotsylvania Schools; and he never lost sight of his mission for good reason,” it read. “He did so despite the noise and disruption from those few board members dedicated to bringing political disruption and dissidence into our public educational system. Shame on the few.”

As Twigg made the announcement, another member of the board interrupted him, saying: “Um, Mr. Twigg, no he is not. You need to make a motion — there needs to be a motion and a vote.”

Board members continued to speak over each other as conservative members attempted a vote. But Board Member Nicole Cole told the chairman she had comments. 

“I believe that the board members who have lodged this termination owe our citizens and our students of Spotsylvania County a justification for firing Dr. Baker,” said Cole. “You have not stated any justification or ability to fill the position. How is this good for the students, the children of Spotsylvania? How does this make sense?”

In a rebuke of the chaotic meeting, she added that Twigg “couldn’t even properly chair a meeting.”

After approximately 7 minutes of heated discussion where members from both sides got noticeably frustrated, the board voted 4-3 to fire Baker. 

Twigg, Lisa Phelps, April Gillespie and Rabih Abuismail, who also advocated for burning books, voted in favor. 

The Free Lance-Star reported that Baker was escorted from the building before the board returned from the second closed-door meeting. 

An emergency meeting has been scheduled for Friday to name an interim superintendent.

“It’s just very sad to hear that a superintendent who has been fully engaged in this community for 10 years is just let go with no rhyme or reason,” said Board Member Dawn Shelley, while noting Baker’s accomplishments. 

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Melissa Etheridge to host Heather Mizeur fundraiser

Virtual event to take place on Tuesday

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Heather Mizeur, left, with Melissa Etheridge. (Photo courtesy of Heather Mizeur)

Singer Melissa Etheridge next week will hold a virtual fundraiser for Heather Mizeur’s congressional campaign.

The fundraiser will take place on Tuesday at 8 p.m. with tickets starting at $50. Supporters who donate at least $250 will be able to speak with Etheridge and Mizeur in a private Zoom room.

Mizeur, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates who lives on the Eastern Shore with her wife, is running against anti-LGBTQ Republican Congressman Andy Harris in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District. Mizeur ran for Maryland governor in 2014.

Mizeur on Thursday noted to the Washington Blade that her congressional campaign has raised more than $1 million.

“It’s going really, really great,” said Mizeur.

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