March 21, 2012 at 10:08 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Maryland trans bill set to die in committee
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.

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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