Maryland Gender Identity Bill Sponsor Says of Senate President: “He Refused to See Me”

The lead sponsor of legislation that seeks to prohibit discrimination against transgender Marylanders in the areas of housing, employment, and some commercial leasing is still fighting for the bill’s passage in the Maryland State Senate, but tells Metro Weekly that success appears unlikely — and lays the blame at the feet of Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D). 

Of Miller’s actions in recent days, Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel, Prince George’s) said, “It is a tremendous, gross disrespect to the community because he’s marginalizing a group of people and basically saying, ‘You don’t matter, you don’t count.'”

Pena-Melnyk, lead sponsor of the bill, talked to Metro Weekly today about Miller’s decision to assign the bill to the Senate’s Rules Committeeafter the Maryland House voted 85-52 in favor of the legislation. Pena-Melnyk said there photo.JPGwill be no hearing scheduled for community members to testify against or in favor of the bill, and that she suspects the bill will be killed in the Rules Committee. 

“On Saturday, 54 bills passed. On Monday, 40 bills passed the House. So a total of 94 bills,” she says.

“There’s a rule which says that the bills must pass the 76th day to the other chamber in order to be assigned to a standing committee. What that means is, in order for a bill to be considered timely, it has to pass before that 76th day, which was Monday, March 28, by 8 p.m.”

“The Gender Identity bill passed on Saturday, way ahead of the deadline. We did that purposely to be timely. Out of the 94 bills that passed out the House timely, Miller, president of the Senate, killed one bill — the Gender Identity bill — and sent it to Rules.”

In the past, a similar version of the bill has died four times in the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the bill was expected to go. 

“You go to Rules when you’re late. So there’s no reason why the bill should have gone to Rules, because it passed timely on Saturday. He did it purposely because he wants to kill it. He bypassed our procedures and our rules. It is a tremendous, gross disrespect to the community because he’s marginalizing a group of people and basically saying, ‘You don’t matter, you don’t count.’ He wouldn’t do this to someone else. It is very disrespectful especially because we submitted the bill on time.

Pena-Melnyk said she had scheduled to meet with Miller yesterday. But he did not show. She waited for him for an hour before leaving.

“He refused to see me,” she said.

Miller has not returned calls to Metro Weekly seeking comment. 

Though she’s not giving up the fight to get the bill to a Senate committee for a scheduled hearing, Pena-Melnyk said that she will not be introducing similar legislation next year if the bill dies in the Rules Committee as expected. 

“I’m tired,” she said. “I gave it my all. Even though I took public accommodations out, there were people in the transgender community who were upset that I took it out and wouldn’t support it. Can you imagine, I would have never been able to get it out with public accommodations. You see how the bill is treated. I hope that now they respect the process and understand what it took and how difficult it is to prepare and argue for a bill like this, because the support is not there.”

[Photo: Pena-Melnyk (Photo by Yusef Najafi.)]

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Maryland Gender Identity Bill Moved to Senate Rules Committee — “This is not a normal process”

When the Maryland House of Delegates voted in favor of the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, House Bill 235, advocates of the measure were immediately concerned about the bill’s movement in the Senate.

In the past, a similar version of the bill has died four times in the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the bill was expected to go. 

Metro Weekly has learned that H.B. 235 will not be going to that committee. Instead the bill received its first reading in the Senate’s Rules Committee on Friday, March 25, and a hearing is expected to be scheduled in the coming days. 

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.

[UPDATE: Speaking to Metro Weekly, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, said the organization is not giving up, adding that the organization and supporters were in Annapolis lobbying for the bill yesterday. 

“This just happened last night,” she said. “We are working with our legislative allies and community leaders to assess the best strategies and tactics at this juncture.”

“This is a serious challenge, but we will keep working until the final hours of the session to make this happen. There are two weeks left. We are not giving up and the people who have been fighting by our sides are not giving up.”

Ezra Towne, a transgender advocate who has been lobbying for the bill in Annapolis, is keeping a positive outlook on its road ahead.

“I don’t think the bill is dead,” Towne says, “I think it’s unfortunate that it has to go through another committee, but I think there’s plenty of time to get the job done.”

“This bill is incredibly important to me,” Towne adds.  

“This summer I was out of work and I’m also a parent, and that’s the first time in my life where my current status as a trans person and the ability to find employment really became an urgent issue for me.”]

Another activist in the Maryland who has been lobbying for the legislation, Cathy Brennan, says the move does not necasrily mean the bill will be killed.
“It’s not dooming gloom,” she says. “The Rules Committee is sometimes  a temporary place where bills go before the chair and committtee figure out where to put the bill.”
While Brennan says she suspects Frosh has a “personal problem” with the bill, she adds that it could also be a result of the bill being late in crossing over from the House.

Before Saturday’s vote, amendments were made to the bill in the House’s Heath and Government Operations Committee, as well as during the bill’s second reading on the House floor.

One amendment added the definition of “gender identity” to the bill. The final version of that definition took out the words “appearance, expression or behavior,” and leaving the definition as: “a gender–related identity, or appearance of an individual regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”

Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s), lead sponsor of the bill, expressed concern about the bill’s movement in the Senate to Metro Weekly immediately following passage of the bill in the House, explaining that this time the bill was written to exclude public accommodations in hopes that it won’t be killed.

“I’m concerned because in the past the support has not been there, so I’m just praying to God, because we amended it the way that we did, taking out public accommodations, as painful as that was, that they will support it now, and that we have addressed their concerns.”

[UPDATE: Meneses-Sheets acknowledges that concern, and adds the bill is about saving lives.

“This is another hurdle to advancing job and housing protections in Maryland this year.  We are already working with allies to keep this important bill moving. It is challenging, but this bill would literally save lives and is worth fighting for.”]

Pena-Melnyk could not immediately be reached for comment. 

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Maryland Gender Identity Bill Passes 2nd Reading on House Floor, Third Reading Scheduled for Saturday

The Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, House Bill 235, went through its second reading this afternoon on the Maryland House of Delegates Floor and was ordered to be “printed” for its third and final reading. According to the clerk’s office of the Maryland House of Delegates, the third reading is scheduled to take place on Saturday, March 26, in order to get the bill to the Senate floor by Monday, March 28.

The bill passed through the Maryland House’s Health and Government Operations Committee with a 15-8 favorable vote this morning. The legislation seeks to prohibit discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, licensing and commercial leasing against transgender Marylanders.

There were no amendments made to the bill during second reading. Amendments were made to the language of the bill in committee. One that took away “expression” and “behavior” from language in the bill, but kept “appearance” and identity. Regardless of the removal, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, says the bill will still protect expression and behavior because of the way it is written. According to Meneses-Sheets amendments may not be introduced during the bill’s third reading.

Speaking to Metro Weekly following passage of the bill’s second reading, Meneses-Sheets said she is “thrilled.”

“We still have a lot of work to do on this bill in a short period of time, but in one day we got through committee and second reading for the first time,” she says. “This critical bill has died in committee year after year, and this is an exciting moment and now we get back to work.”

For updates to this story, continue to visit metroweekly.com.

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Maryland Gender Identity Bill Passes Through Committee 15-8

The Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, House Bill 235, passed through the Maryland House’s Health and Government Operations Committee with a 15-8 favorable vote, according to Equality Maryland.

The legislation, which seeks to prohibit discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, licensing and commercial leasing against transgender Marylanders, will now move on to the Maryland House of Delegates floor for a full vote.

[UPDATE] According to prominent transgender activist Dana Beyer, the bill’s third reading and final vote are expected on the House floor before midnight on Monday, March 28. The bill will then move to the Senate. 

“The party-line vote is indivcative of the fact that there’s strong support on the floor,” Beyer says.

According to Beyer, amendments made to the bill in committee were limited to the language used in the bill and were of “no great significance.” A proposed amendment to allow greater religious exclusions was rejected. 

In a statement released by Equality Maryland Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk’s (D- Anne Arundel, Prince George’s), the lead sponsor of the bill, said the legislation is about fairness.

“Every Marylander should expect to work or live in comfortable housing without fear of losing either because of who they are.  HB 235 provides the protection necessary to make sure that every Marylander can live without fear of discrimination.”

Equality Maryland executive director Morgan Meneses-Sheets told Metro Weekly yesterday that she was confident of a favorable vote in committee, despite some delay introduced by Republican Del. Susan Krebs (Carroll County) who sought a definition of “transgender,” one that was approved by Maryland’s Attorney General, prompting a “procedural hold” until this morning.

“All hardworking people in our state, including transgender people, should have a chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families,” Meneses-Sheets states in the release. “Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.”

Meneses-Sheets also said that she is confident the bill will make it on to the House floor for a vote before the end of this year’s legislative session, which is April 11.

Though it could not be determined if Kreb’s dilemma was appeased with a resolution, she ultimately voted against the measure.

Opponents of the legislation include members of the LGBT community who argue that the bill is inadequate because it only provides some, not all, protections by excluding “public accommodations” on a state level. Similar legislation, which included protections for transgender people with regard to Maryland public accommodations, has failed in the past.

Currently, Baltimore City and Montgomery County provide protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity with regard to housing, employment and public accommodation.

Voting record on bill is now available. 

Voting in favor of H.B. 235:

  • Peter Hammen (D-46)
  • Shane Pendergrass (D-13)
  • Eric M Bromwell (D-8)
  • Bonnie Cullison (D-19)
  • Robert Costa (D-33B)
  • James Hubbard (D-23A)
  • Ariana Kelly (D-16)
  • Dan Morhaim (D-11)
  • Peter Murphy (D-28)
  • Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-10)
  • Nathaniel Oaks (D-41)
  • Joseline Pena-Melynk (D-21)
  • Kirill Reznik (D-39)
  • Shawn Tarrant (D-40)
  • Veronica Turner (D-26)

Voting against the measure: 

  • John Donoghue (D-2C)
  • Donald Elliott (D-4B)
  • William Frank (D-42)
  • A. Wade Kach (D-5B)
  • Nic Kipke (D-31)
  • Susan Krebs (D-9B)
  • Patrick McDonough (D-7)
  • Justin Ready (D-5A)

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Maryland Gender Identity Bill Moves Ahead

A bill that seeks to prohibit discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, licensing and commercial leasing, against transgender Marylanders, just passed its first hurdle, moving through the Government Operations Subcommittee of the Health and Government Operations Committee, according to Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk’s (D- Anne Arundel, Prince George’s) office. 

Though details of passage of the bill through subcommittee were not immediately available, a representative from Pena-Melnyk’s office told Metro Weekly amendments were made this afternoon to the bill “quickly,” and they will be posted on the H.B. 235’s official page shortly.

Pena-Melnyk is the lead sponsor of the bill. The bill will be put to a committee vote next week according to her office. If that vote is favorable, the bill will move to the House for a floor vote.

Currently, Baltimore City and Montgomery County provide protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity with regard to housing, employment and public accommodation. Supporters of the statewide legislation argue that often times people are unaware of these local protections.

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