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Maryland Senate approves transgender rights bill

Measure passed by 32-15 vote margin

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Rich Madaleno, Maryland, Democratic Party, Montgomery County, gay news, Washington Blade

Rich Madaleno, Maryland, Democratic Party, Montgomery County, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland state. Sen. Rich Madaleno introduced Senate Bill 212 (Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

ANNAPOLIS, Md.–The Maryland Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in the state.

The measure passed by a 32-15 vote margin after senators debated on its third reading for less than 20 minutes.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) voted for Senate Bill 212 – the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014 – alongside state Sens. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s County), James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s County), Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County), Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery County), Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore City), Verna Jones-Rodwell (D-Baltimore City), Edward Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore and Howard Counties), Delores Kelly (D-Baltimore County), Nancy King (D-Montgomery County), Allan Kittleman (R-Howard County), Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), Roger Manno (D-Montgomery County), Nathaniel McFadden (D-Baltimore City), Thomas Middleton (D-Charles County), Karen Montgomery (D-Montgomery County), C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County), Douglas Peters (D-Prince George’s County), Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s County), Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City), Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s County), Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), James Robey (D-Howard County), James Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties), Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County), Ronald Young (D-Frederick and Washington Counties) and Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County).

Kittleman, who is the only Republican who voted for the measure, said he hopes “people realize this is a fairness issue.”

“It is not our job to discriminate,” added Kelly before the vote. “The bill is carefully crafted. The definitions are clear”

State Sens. John Astle (D-Anne Arundel County), David Brinkley (R-Carroll and Frederick Counties), Richard Colburn (R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico Counties), James DeGrange, Sr., (D-Anne Arundel County), Roy Dyson (D-Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s Counties), George Edwards (R-Alleghany, Garrett and Washington Counties), Joseph Getty (R-Baltimore and Carroll Counties), Barry Glassman (R-Harford County), Stephen Hershey, Jr. (R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties), Nancy Jacobs (R-Cecil and Harford Counties), J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore and Harford Counties), James Mathias, Jr., (D-Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester Counties), Edward Reilly (R-Anne Arundel County), Christopher Shank (R-Washington County) and Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County) voted against SB 212.

Simonaire before the vote questioned the measure’s definitions of public accommodations and gender identity. The Anne Arundel County Republican also sought additional religious protections in SB 212 that Raskin maintained already exist.

“The intent of this bill is discrimination,” said Simonaire. “There is an absence of religion.”

“Huge day for transgender rights in Maryland”

Madaleno, who introduced SB 212, applauded its passage.

“Today marks a historic milestone in the continued fight to advance equal rights for all Marylanders,” he said in a statement. “The Senate’s passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act sends a reaffirming message throughout our state that regardless of whom you are, prejudice and discrimination will no longer be tolerated or exempted from law. With these new anti-discrimination protections for transgender persons one step closer to full passage.”

“Today is a huge day for transgender rights in Maryland,” added Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans. “With their vote, 32 Senators stood up to say no one should be denied the opportunity to work for a living, secure housing or eat lunch at a restaurant just because of their gender identity.”

Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, who announced her candidacy against Madaleno in January, specifically applauded her opponent in a statement after senators approved the measure. She also praised Frosh, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, former Equality Maryland Executive Director Dan Furmansky and “the trans community who came every year to Annapolis to lobby and tell their stories.”

“After eight years of struggle, and with the active support of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., and the legislative magic of Sen. Jamie Raskin, a comprehensive gender identity anti-discrimination bill has passed in the Senate,” said Beyer.

Frosh described Madaleno as “the best leader for gender equality and LGBT rights in the country” as he discussed the measure’s passage with the Washington Blade after the vote.

“It was the forceful but quiet leadership of Jamie and Rich,” said Frosh. “The fact it came up and got almost no debate was remarkable. The fact it got 32 votes was astonishing.”

Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director Sarah Warbelow, Vann Michael of Black Transmen, Inc., and Free State Legal Project Executive Director Aaron Merki are among those who also applauded SB 212’s passage.

“As a transgender woman, I know that this is one huge step forward for transgender people who only want to fully participate in public life, without fear of discrimination based on gender identity,” said Jenna Fischetti of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality. “Today the Maryland Senate said loud and clear that every Marylander deserves equal rights.”

SB 212 last month cleared a major hurdle when the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved the measure by a 8-3 vote margin.

Baltimore City and Baltimore, Montgomery and Howard Counties currently include gender identity and expression in their non-discrimination laws. Hyattsville in December became the first jurisdiction in Prince George’s County to pass a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance.

Neighboring Delaware is among the 17 states along with D.C. and Puerto Rico that ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania, New York and other states have introduced similar measures.

The Maryland House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee on Wednesday is scheduled to hold a hearing on a trans rights bill that state Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) introduced. The chamber approved a similar measure in 2011.

All three Democratic gubernatorial candidates – Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) – support SB 212.

“Today 32 Senators voted against gender discrimination and for what is just and fair,” Gansler told the Blade in a statement. “I congratulate all who worked so hard, led by Senator Madaleno, for the passage of this milestone legislation.”

“Today, the Senate took a huge step forward in our path to equality under the law for all Marylanders,” added Mizeur, who testified in support of SB 212 last month before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “No one in our state should face discrimination, period. Now let’s get it done in the House.”

Brown on Wednesday is expected to testify in support of Clippinger’s bill on behalf of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

“He sees this legislation as a critical step forward towards making sure that every Marylander no matter who they are, where they are, what their background is is treated fairly,” Brown’s spokesperson, Matt Verghese, told the Blade.

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District of Columbia

Judge orders D.C. high school to recognize anti-LGBTQ student group

Ruling overturns claim that Christian group’s policy violates Human Rights Act

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A U.S. District Court judge on July 11 issued a preliminary injunction ordering D.C.’s Jackson-Reed High School, the city’s largest public high school, to officially recognize a student group called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which requires its leaders to support the group’s religious belief that homosexuality is immoral.

The 31-page ruling by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich came in response to a May 7, 2024, lawsuit filed by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ national office against D.C. Public Schools officials and the D.C. government. The lawsuit charges that Jackson-Reed High School violated the Christian student group’s religious rights under the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act by refusing its most recent application for recognition.

The lawsuit says the group applied for and received recognition in 2022, making it eligible for full school benefits, funding, and the right to hold meetings at school facilities. But according to the lawsuit, the school system reversed its decision of recognition in the fall of 2022 after a school athletic coach expressed opposition to the recognition on grounds that Fellowship of Christian Athletes discriminates against the LGBTQ community by its requirement that its leaders oppose homosexuality.

In its court filings in response to the lawsuit, the Office of the D.C. Attorney General says Jackson Reed, in consultation with D.C. Public Schools officials determined that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ requirement that its student leaders must adhere to its position on homosexuality violates the D.C. Human Rights Act and the D.C. school system’s longstanding policy of prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Plaintiffs’ religious rights are not violated by D.C. Public School’s Anti-Discrimination Policy because it is a generally applicable, religiously neutral policy that applies to every student and student organization at DCPS schools,” the AG’s court filing says. “As such, Plaintiffs’ religious freedoms, as guaranteed under the First Amendment, are not infringed,” it says.

The AG’s court filing says D.C. Public Schools made it clear that it would grant full recognition to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Jackson-Reed High School if it disassociates itself from the national group’s “discriminatory” policy on homosexuality. Students associated with the Jackson-Reed FCA group and the attorneys representing them declined that offer.

In addition to the District of Columbia, the lawsuit names as defendants Lewis D. Ferebee, Chancellor and CEO of D.C. Public Schools; and Cinthia L. Ruiz, the D.C. Public Schools’ Chief Integrity Officer.

It says the Jackson-Reed student group that signed onto the lawsuit is part of a national Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization that operates more than 7,000 student chapters called “huddles” that meet at middle school, high school, and college campuses across the country.

In what initially appears to be supportive of the D.C. Attorney General’s position, Judge Friedrich cites the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ statement of faith, which holds that marriage is limited to “a lifelong covenant relationship between a man and a woman.” In her ruling the judge further quotes  the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ position prohibiting “sexual relations outside of marriage (whether involving individuals of the same sex or opposite sex)” and “any sexually immoral act … including homosexuality.”

But in her ruling granting the Christian group’s request for a preliminary injunction while the lawsuit itself continues in litigation, Friedrich states that D.C. ‘s defense falls short. As stated in the lawsuit, the judge points out, among other things, D.C. Public Schools has recognized other secular student groups that have restrictions on who can be leaders or members.

The lawsuit argues that at Jackson-Reed High School several student groups are allowed to restrict who their leaders can be, such as the Disabled Student Alliance and the Asian Student Union as well as the Wise Club, which the lawsuit says offers “special space for young women.”

“These limits seem reasonable; they create focused, helpful spaces for involved students,” the lawsuit says. “But by reserving to itself the discretion to allow these clubs to choose their leaders based on beliefs or characteristics, D.C. Public Schools impermissibly singles out Fellowship of Christian Athletes for discriminatory treatment by stripping FCA of its recognized status for doing the same thing,” it says.

“Antidiscrimination laws ‘have done much to secure the civil rights of all Americans,’” Friedrich states in the conclusion section of her ruling. “But anti-discrimination laws, like all other laws, must be applied evenhandedly and not in violation of the Constitution,” she states. “Unfortunately, it appears that this command was not followed at Jackson-Reed High School.”

The judge notes again that Fellowship of Christian Athletes requires its student leaders, “but not its members,” to “affirm their commitment to the group’s beliefs.” She states that among those beliefs is the prohibition on sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

 “For this, FCA lost its official status at Jackson-Reed,” Friedrich wrote in her ruling. “As a condition for reinstatement, the District forced FCA to choose between official school recognition and its religious principles. Such treatment is at odds with that received by secular groups at Jackson-Reed that limit membership on the basis of other protected characteristics and/or ideological alignment,” the judge concludes.

In support of her ruling, Friedrich cited a decision by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco last September that overturned a similar school ban on a religious student group by San Jose, Calif., public schools. The ruling by the 9th Circuit, which has the reputation of being a liberal appeals court, declared the school system could not withhold recognition of some student affinity groups and not others based on their views or beliefs.

Based on “at least” the possibility that D.C.’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes will prevail in its lawsuit under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution, Friedrich said she granted FCA’s request for a preliminary injunction ordering the D.C. Public Schools to grant recognition of FCA at Jackson-Reed High School. The judge said she declined to approve the group’s request that the injunction be expanded to include  all D.C. public schools.

Under court rules, a preliminary injunction remains in effect until the time a lawsuit is resolved in court. The lawsuit filed by Fellowship for Christian Athletes requests a trial by jury. Court records show that no trial date had been scheduled as of July 12.

The D.C. Office of the Attorney General did not immediately respond to news media inquiries for comment on the judge’s ruling and whether it plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C.

Jackson-Reed High School, which had the name Woodrow Wilson High School from the time of its opening in 1935 until its name was changed in 2022, is located in the city’s Tenleytown neighborhood in Northwest Washington.

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District of Columbia

D.C. Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ program helps ensure students feel safe

More than half of queer students experience bullying, harassment

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According a study from Theirworld of LBGTQ+ Gen-Z youth, students feel unsafe in schools. D.C. Public Schools is trying to combat the problem in the District. 

“Research shows that the way schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can affect their physical health, mental health outcomes, academic outcomes, and their decision-making later in life,” said DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Programming Specialist, Adalphie Johnson. 

DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Program started in 2011 after a 2009 survey from GLSEN revealed that 9 out of 10 queer students reported in-school harassment. 

In response, they have created extensive programming to ensure students feel safe at D.C. Public Schools. In 2015 they created a trans and non-binary policy that included guidance on LGBTQ+ terms, locker room accommodations, gender-neutral dress codes, and more. 

In addition, they host an annual conference for queer and trans DCPS students. 

“The “Leading With Pride” conference increases networking, and builds the leadership capacity of our students and faculty advisers to implement school-level LGBTQ programming,” Johnson said. 

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures according to HRC. This year, Theirworld’s survey found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced bullying and harassment at school.

Johnson said that students feeling safe in school requires creating an environment where all students can thrive. 

“We encourage students to report incidents without fear of retaliation and ensure that reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly,” she said. 

Johnson also pointed out that as a result of discrimination, students are more likely to miss school, which can lead to low grades, along with impairing cognitive responses. So, she said, it is best for schools to respond with action swiftly. 

However, Johnson and the LGBTQ+ programming team acknowledge that not all students come from supportive backgrounds. 

As a part of their trans and gender-nonconforming policy, staff are expected to work closely with students to determine how involved parents are with the transitioning student, before contacting parents. 

Johnson gave parents eight steps to ensure the safety of their child, if they are in the LGBTQ community.  

8 Steps For Parents

1. Educate Yourself. Learn about LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and terminology. Understanding the basics can help you provide better support and avoid misunderstandings.

2. Listen and Communicate. Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to express themselves. Listen to their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Advocate for Them. Stand up for your child in situations where they may face discrimination or misunderstanding. Become actively involved in the PTA and other parent groups within the school.

4. Seek Support. Lead or organize programming with/for other parents of LGBTQ+ children can provide  valuable insights and emotional support.

5. Respect Their Privacy. Allow your child to determine their own level of outness at school. Don’t share their identity without their permission.

6. Create a Safe Environment. Inform the school of any homophobic or transphobic remarks or behavior from others.

7. Inform school about their needs. Recognize that each LGBTQ+ person’s experience is unique. Ask your child what they need from you and how you can best support them. Communicate those needs to the school. This would be a great opportunity to develop and share a Safety Plan for the student while at school. 

8. Promote Inclusivity. Encourage, support and inform inclusive policies and practices in your child’s school community. 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for Summer returns July 25

‘Their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated’

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A scene from last year's SMYAL for Summer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL for Summer is back at Franklin Hall on July 25, where the youth services organization will honor the next generation of change makers in the LGBTQ community. 

“In a tumultuous year for policy against LGBTQ+ youth, celebrating the achievements of our scholarship winners sends a powerful message that their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated,” said Caro Vordndran, SMYAL’s Development Coordinator. 

At the event, SMYAL, the D.C. queer and trans youth advocacy organization, will honor recipients of its Youth Leadership Award and the Sophie’s Live Out Loud Scholarship. Plus, the event will feature a drag performance from Mia Vanderbilt. 

One of the scholarship recipients, Lion Burney, said that in addition to the scholarship they were most excited for the community they will continue to seek in SMYAL’s safe space. 

“The SMYAL community means a lot to me. From found family to open expression to endless support — I am beyond grateful to be a part of this experience,” Burney said.

This is SMYAL’s 12th annual SMYAL for Summer event and the 40th year of creating community for D.C.’s youth. Given SMYAL’s history, alumni like Nathan Handberg often come back to keep traditions alive. 

Handberg was an awardee in 2019 and served on the selection committee this year. They said they felt great about their continued involvement with SMYAL.

“Being a previous winner really gave me insight that helped with the process of choosing the winners this year and I like that I have the ability to help shape future leaders in our community,” they said. 

Tickets for the event range from $10 for students and $20 for general admission, up to $500 for Platinum Supporters. Tickets for the event will contribute to funding for SMYAL’s year-round youth advocacy programming. The event will run from 6-8 p.m.

“They have housing programs for queer youth… they’ve done queer sex education classes filling in critical gaps that are left by our education curriculum,” Handberg said. “Honestly they do so much more, I could write multiple pages on my experiences with SMYAL and all they do.”

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