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Md. Senate committee holds hearing on transgender rights bill

Bill has more than 20 co-sponsors.

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Rich Madaleno, Dana Beyer, Jamie Raskin, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade
Jamie Raskin, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

ANNAPOLIS, Md.–A Maryland state Senate committee on Tuesday held a hearing on a bill that would ban anti-transgender discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.

“Many of the most vulnerable people in the LGBT community are left with no legal protections in our state laws,” state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County,) who introduced Senate Bill 449 or the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2013 late last month with state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County,) said. He noted lawmakers in 2001 added sexual orientation, but not gender identity and expression to Maryland’s anti-discrimination law. “I come before you today as the sponsor of Senate Bill 449 with my good friend from Montgomery County and ask you to fix this omission and ensure that all Marylanders, including my transgender sisters and brothers, are afforded protection under our anti-discrimination laws.”

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, agreed.

“The protections in Senate Bill 449 are needed in real people’s lives,” she said.

Former Montgomery County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, David Rocah of the American Civil Liberties Union and Liz Seaton of the National Center for Lesbian Rights are among the more than two dozen SB 449 proponents who testified.

“It is difficult to see your child struggle through life because they are transgender,” Millie Jean Byrd said as she spoke about her trans daughter who also testified in support of SB 449.

Caroline Temmermand said her credit card company lowered her credit limit from $5,500 to $200 after she legally changed her name.

“When you talk about transgender folks, we have families,” she said. “You discriminate against us, you discriminate against my family.”

Alex Hickcox of Hyattsville spoke about the fear he said he experiences at work because of his gender identity and expression.

“Everyone in Maryland deserves a safe work environment free from potential harassment or actual harassment and discrimination,” he said. “Everyone in this great state deserves to feel like they have a voice and they don’t have to be silent.”

Baltimore City, along with Baltimore and Howard and Montgomery Counties have already adopted trans-inclusive non-discrimination laws.

Sixteen states and D.C. ban anti-trans discrimination, but SB 449 opponents maintain the bill is unnecessary.

“This bill will force the state and private actors — employers, landlords and others who provide public services — to officially and legally affirm the very delusion that puts these suffering individuals at odds with reality,” Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, said. “Not only will it not makes their lives better, but it will prevent them from getting the very help they do need to make their lives better.”

Elaine McDermott and Ruth Jacobs of Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government are among those who also testified against the measure. Rev. Derek McCoy of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which opposed the same-sex marriage law Gov. Martin O’Malley signed last year, attended a portion of the hearing.

Marriage referendum provided ‘foundation of understanding’

The state House of Delegates in 2011 passed a trans rights bill, but a similar measure died in a Senate committee last year.

O’Malley, who signed Baltimore City’s trans rights ordinance into law in 2002 when he was mayor of the Charm City, told the Washington Blade on Monday he is “absolutely” reaching out to state lawmakers to encourage them to support SB 449. Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) also backs the proposal.

A spokesperson for state Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) told the Blade on Tuesday he “hasn’t made up his mind on the issue.” State Sens. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County) and Norman Stone, Jr., (D-Baltimore County) also remain undecided.

Rich Madaleno, Dana Beyer, Jamie Raskin, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

State Sen. Rich Madaleno, Dana Beyer and state Sen. Jamie Raskin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, and other advocates remain optimistic SB 449 has enough votes in committee to send it to the full Senate. Madaleno said members of the LGBT legislative caucus “meet regularly with the whole coalition” in anticipation of the bill going to the House of Delegates.

“They’ve managed to get it passed before,” he said. “It’s a matter of laying the groundwork, keeping everyone up to date.”

State Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) told the Blade on Monday she feels the passage of last November’s same-sex marriage referendum laid what she described as “a foundation for understanding” of civil rights for all Marylanders.

“You can make the case that everyone who’s different deserves all the same opportunities and rights and responsibilities of our society,” she said. “That was the case we made for marriage and we’re continuing to make it for our transgender friends.”

Madaleno and state Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) were the only LGBT members of the state legislature who attended a rally in support of SB 449 at Lawyer’s Mall on Feb. 18. Gay state Del. Peter Murphy (D-Calvert County) testified in support of the measure during the hearing.

“All people are asking is each person in this state, every one in this state, all of our constituents are entitled to the same rights and privileges that everybody else has,” he said.

Advocates stress unity

Beyer said during her testimony she remains more optimistic about the bill’s chances this year, in part, because voters last November upheld the state’s same-sex marriage law. She also cited the American Psychiatric Association’s decision late last year to remove Gender Identity Disorder from its list of mental disorders as additional progress on trans rights.

“This year is different,” Beyer said. “This year the arc of the moral universe will bring justice to Maryland.”

The committee is expected to vote on whether to send SB 449 to the full Senate by next Thursday.

Meanwhile, the measure’s supporters maintain they hopeful lawmakers will support the proposal.

“Ultimately we are all united in our drive to achieve fairness for trans Marylanders,” Keith Thirion of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality told the Blade after the hearing ended. “We don’t let go of that.”

Connie O’Malley of Baltimore agreed.

“Everybody is really focused on the goal, which is to protect the vulnerable people that need the protection,” she said. “We are doing our best to focus on staying united on that goal.”

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Biden endorses Roem for re-election

Former journalist is first out trans person in any state legislature

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Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) speaks to supporters following her re-election on Nov. 5, 2019. President Biden has endorsed her for re-election. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Biden on Tuesday endorsed Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) for re-election.

Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) is among the other Democratic members of the Virginia House of Delegates who Biden backed. Biden in his tweet also stressed his support of Terry McAuliffe, who is running against Republican Glenn Youngkin to succeed Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

“Building back better starts in the states,” tweeted Biden. “Since flipping the legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats have been a model of progress—including helping us vaccinate folks to beat the pandemic. To keep our progress, we must elect Terry McAuliffe and Democrats up and down the ballot.”

Roem, a former journalist, in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.

Biden called Roem on the night she defeated then-state Del. Bob Marshall and congratulated her. A Washington Post picture that showed Roem crying moments later went viral.

The Manassas Democrat who represents the 13th District in 2019 easily won re-election. Christopher Stone, the Republican who is running against Roem in this cycle, opposes marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples.

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Conservatives blame pro-trans policy after assaults in Loudoun schools

‘Gender fluid’ 15-year-old accused of attacking female students

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The Loudoun County, Va., public school system’s recently adopted policy of allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity has come under fire over the past two weeks by outraged parents and conservative political activists following reports that a 15-year-old “gender fluid” boy allegedly sexually assaulted two girls in different high schools.

The parents of one of the girls released a statement through the Virginia-based Stanley Law Group blaming school officials for failing to put in place safeguards to prevent the boy, who they say was dressed in a skirt, from entering the girl’s bathroom to assault their daughter at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., on May 28.

The statement accuses Loudoun County Schools officials and the Loudoun County Board of Education of failing to take steps to prevent the same 15-year-old boy from allegedly sexually assaulting another female student at Broad Run High School, also located in Ashburn, on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom.

School officials acknowledge that the boy was transferred to the second school after law enforcement authorities released him from a juvenile detention facility following his arrest for the first case, in which the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said he was charged with two counts of forceable sodomy against his female victim. 

“The sexual assault on our daughter and the subsequent sexual assault by the same individual were both predictable and preventable,” the parents’ statement says. “Subsequent to the sexual assault on our daughter, Loudoun County Public Schools formalized the policy regarding restroom use that was easily exploitable by a potential sexual assailant,” the statement continues. 

“Because of poor planning and misguided policies, Loudoun Schools failed to institute even minimal safeguards to protect students from sexual assaults,” says the statement.

Loudoun County Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler apologized at an Oct. 15 news conference for what he acknowledged was the school systems’ mishandling of the two sexual assault cases. He noted that school officials should have publicly disclosed the two cases or at least alerted parents at the time they occurred. But he said a federal civil rights law known as Title IX that mandates how schools must respond to cases of sexual harassment appeared to prevent Loudoun school officials from initially disclosing the two cases of sexual assault until they were investigated by law enforcement authorities.

Ziegler said the school system was revamping its disciplinary procedures and its interaction with the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office to ensure that parents and students are alerted to potential danger similar to the cases where the 15-year-old boy allegedly assaulted the two female students.

Meanwhile, school officials and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun have pointed out that law enforcement officials have yet to confirm whether the 15-year-old boy charged in the two cases was actually dressed in women’s clothes during the first incident or whether he is trans or gender fluid.

Equality Loudoun’s president, Cris Candice Tuck, released a statement to the Washington Blade on Oct. 18 that she said was the first official known statement responding to the Loudoun school controversy from an LGBTQ organization.

“In light of the reporting of recent sexual assault allegations, the Board of Directors of Equality Loudoun wishes to extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of these heinous attacks and their families,” the statement says. “Equality Loudoun advocates for due process and justice for the victims regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator was a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement continues. “Such actions have no place in our community, and Equality Loudoun does not condone any form of sexual violence, assault, or harassment,” it says.

“However, the accusations that the alleged perpetrator of these assaults is transgender or genderfluid have so far been unverified,” the Equality Loudoun statement asserts. “Attempts to shift blame of this incident to any individual, group, or policy – other than the alleged perpetrator – does a grave disservice to the victims of these crimes and already marginalized youth in our community.”

The statement adds, “We remind those advocating for change to the laws and policies that the initial assault predated any enactment of Policy 8040 by almost 4 months.”

The Equality Loudoun statement was referring to the fact that the Loudoun County School Board did not vote to approve the school system’s trans nondiscrimination policy until August of this year, more than three months after the first of the two sexual assault incidents occurred. 

The policy, among other things, allows transgender and genderfluid students to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The policy also requires that teachers, school administrators and fellow students address a trans or genderfluid student by their chosen name and pronouns.

“Inadvertent slips in the use of names and pronouns may occur,” the policy states. “However, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy,” it states.

The statement says that rumors of a bathroom “pilot” program that predated the official approval of Policy 8040 that would have allowed female trans or genderfluid students to use the girls’ bathrooms “are simply untrue” and were never put in place.

In a separate statement to the Blade, Equality Loudoun’s Cris Candice Tuck challenged claims by some parents and conservative political activists, some of whom are supporting Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAulliffe, that the trans nondiscrimination policy is placing students at risk for sexual assault.

“The adoption of nondiscrimination policies are in no way endangering students,” Candice Tuck said. “Across the country, sexual assaults have occurred in schools for decades before any transgender inclusive policies were passed,” she said. “And in those counties and states where such protections have passed in recent years, there has been no verified incidence of anyone abusing such policies to commit such attacks in schools.”

Candice Tuck added, “The focus should be on improving systems of reporting, coordination, and investigation, protecting the victims of these attacks, and creating safer school environments by creating modernized areas and bathrooms that increase protection for all students, including LGBTQ+ students who are statistically more likely to be the victim of such a crime.”  

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D.C. rejects request by gyms to lift mask mandate

LGBTQ-owned venues sign letter calling requirement ‘devastating’ for business

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Owners of two LGBTQ-owned D.C. fitness studios and one gym signed on to a joint letter with the owners of six other similar businesses urging D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. Laquandra Nesbitt to lift a city mandate requiring patrons of gyms and fitness studios to wear masks. 

The Oct. 4 letter, written by gay businessman Bryan Myers, the CEO and president of a chain of local fitness studios using the trademark name of [solidcore], states that the mask mandate, which applies to people who are fully vaccinated for the coronavirus, is based largely on outdated data pertaining to gyms and fitness studios collected prior to the widespread availability of the COVID vaccine.

“More relevant data to inform decision-making would be to study the data from two, large Northeastern cities that have opted to allow fitness classes to continue with the requirement of vaccination in lieu of a mask requirement,” the letter states. “In both New York City and Philadelphia, which have opted for this approach, we have not seen an increase in the trajectory of the Delta variant,” Myers says in the letter.

In the last week of July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that cities and local jurisdictions with 50 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents per week, which at that time included D.C., should ask residents to voluntarily resume wearing masks indoors. That same week, Bowser announced she would go one step further by mandating the indoor use of masks in most public places, including gyms and fitness spas or studios. 

Bowser and Nesbitt said their intention was to take immediate steps to curtail the spread of the coronavirus so that the city would not be forced to return to the full shutdown mode, including the closing of businesses, that the mayor lifted earlier this year.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced they would ask residents of their states to consider using masks in crowded indoor spaces as recommended by the CDC, but said they would not require mask use. 

In their letter to Bowser and Nesbitt, the gym and fitness studio owners called on the mayor to provide the same exemption to their businesses as the city has provided for restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, which requires masks except when patrons are eating and drinking. 

“While it is true that bars, restaurants, and clubs technically have to follow the same guidelines, we know that in practice, these venues have been granted exceptions by D.C. Health,” the letter says. “On any given night, you can find hundreds of individuals crowded into a U Street bar, at a Capitol Hill restaurant, or thousands at a performance or party at The Anthem enjoying themselves – singing, dancing and physically exerting themselves, shouting – maskless – so long as they have a drink somewhere nearby,” says the letter.

“And to be unequivocally clear, we are not advocating that there is anything wrong with what is happening in other industries or that there be a change to the management of those industries/venues,” the letter continues. “We are simply advocating that we be treated the same as they are.”

The letter adds, “Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the mask mandate for fitness studios and gyms has resulted in devastating financial impact to these businesses – many of which are small locally owned.”

It says patronage has dropped 50 percent for some of the fitness centers and gyms since the mayor’s mask mandate took effect July 29. It points out that the drop in customers comes at a time when many of these businesses have spent thousands of dollars and in some cases hundreds of thousands to upgrade their ventilation and filtration systems and other structural steps to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Myers told the Washington Blade in a statement that neither the Department of Health nor the mayor’s office replied directly to the gym and fitness studios’ letter.

Channel 7 News reported that in response to its request for the city’s reaction to the gym and fitness studios’ concerns, the Department of Health released a statement saying, “D.C. Health’s stance is that persons should wear masks in gyms and during this time [we] do not have plans to change our stance on this guidance.”

In his statement to the Blade, Myers said the D.C. gym and fitness studios were frustrated and disappointed that the city at this time is not open to reconsidering the mask mandate for gyms and fitness studios, many of which he said are barely surviving.

“This mandate is directly affecting the livelihoods of residents of the District, many of whom are women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ in a policy that is simply not equitable, and is steering residents away from services that can help improve the overall health of our community,” Myers said.

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