03/29/11-by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
It is something of a start in Maryland, but the reality is that it will cause problems down the line without the most basic protections that it needs. Maryland’s House of Delegates passed legislation that would ban discrimination against trans peple in Maryland with regards to employment, housing and credit, but vital protections with regards to public accommodations were removed in order to get the bill passed.
Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who authored the bill and was its lead sponsor, was dismayed at how opponents attacked trans people with regards to the workplace or the bathroom. She said “In the last few minutes I have heard some things that are truly sad. People have preconceived ideas and prejudices.” With regards to pulling the public accommodation provisions, she said “And I did so because the political reality is that I could not have gotten the bill out — look at the discussion today — if I had public accommodations in it. But it gives you protections.”
Almost exclusively, incidents in the bathroom are instigated by a cis person objecting to the presence of a trans person in the bathroom. (Simply put, I have never run into a situation where an incident was instigated by the trans person, but I am not omniscient.)
The vote came after fifty minutes of debate. Morgan Meneses-Sheets, the Executive Director of Equality Maryland, said “This is a huge demonstration in support of fairness today. We still have work to do. We’ve got to get it through the Senate. But we are overjoyed with the outcome today.”
It is a start, but it is not enough. TransMaryland was already objecting to the changes that were made to remove the public accommodation protections and called the changes unacceptable. In a form letter they asked their supporters to send to Maryland senators, they wrote:
All of Maryland’s protected classes deserve full and equal protection under the law. The civil rights movement in our country was founded to protect rights in public accommodations. Transgender and transsexual people experience grave abuses when accessing everyday goods and essential services, from retail stores and buses to police and court systems. From disrespect and refusal of service to harassment and violence, this mistreatment in so many settings contributes to severe social marginalization and safety risk.
HB 235 serves to perpetuate this by creating a further inequity in Maryland in which residents in Montgomery County and Baltimore City have full protections in their everyday lives, but the rest of the state is forced to suffer dire consequences. There is a member of the transgender and transsexual community murdered every 3 months just because of how they were born.
Please vote to end this needless loss of life, please amend HB 235 to include public accommodations or vote an unfavorable report.
The Maryland Legislature has until 11 April to clear all legislation, and that means all bills must pass through the House and Senate. The Senate still must pass this bill. The vote fell along
Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), one of seven openly lesbian or gay members of the House of Delegates, noted that transgender protections were omitted entirely from a Maryland law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation that the legislature passed 10 years ago.
“It was a calculated decision and one that I frankly regret,” she said, referring to the omission of a transgender provision. “I think it was the wrong decision. And this bill today, House Bill 235, rights a very bad wrong that we need to do,” she said. “And I ask you to support House Bill 235, a very important step forward to end discrimination in Maryland.”
Transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer, who ran for a seat in the House of Delegates last year, called approval of the bill by the House historic.
“We still have two more votes to go to get this bill done and then we need to work on adding public accommodations next year,” she said. “Actually, the only statement from the opponents with which I agree was, you know, if you give them this now they will come back and say they want full civil rights. And, yeah, that’s the case. We want full civil rights, and we’ll get them one step at a time.”
Hopefully, advocates can get the public accommodations portion of the bill reinstated in the Senate. In fact, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate where it was sent to the Rules Committee where the Deputy Chair is opposed to the bill without being openly transphobic.
Metro Weekly reports:
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) chairs that committee, with Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County) serving as its co-chair.
According to transgender activist Dana Beyer, who has been monitoring movement of the bill, the switch is bad news.
“It’s bad,” Beyer says, adding that there’s also no explanation given as to why the bill is going to the Rules committee.
“We don’t trust Frosh and this seems to be his way of killing it and leaving himself with clean hands,” Beyer says. “Bills don’t go to Rules Committee unless there’s a problem with them. This is not the normal process. There really is no reason for it. I would say this doesn’t look good, and there’s no excuse for it.”
Another activist in Maryland who has been lobbying for the legislation, Cathy Brennan, says the move means that the bill is “dead.”
“The legislation appears dead for this session and a key issue for activists is to determine why Brian Frosh insists on being such an obstacle for this legislation,” she says.
Given the fact that the biggest problems that trans people face are typically in public accommodations and then in work, housing and credit, the move may be a positive one. This is still developing, but it may mean that there is a need for those groups more centered on the LGB portion of the community to work more strongly with the T portion in order to get this bill passed in such a manner that it protects everyone.