A bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations, housing, employment, licensing and commercial leasing looks to be treading water as advocates try to sway Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert, Prince George’s counties) to allow a vote on it during this year’s legislative session.
The transgender rights organization Gender Rights Maryland announced on its website Jan. 25 that the gender identity bill, SB 212, would be introduced by lead sponsor Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery Co.), but that there would be no cross-filed bill in the House of Delegates, largely because of concerns that the bill would not be brought to a vote in the Senate.
According to Gender Rights Maryland, when Miller was asked about the gender identity bill he told advocates, ”I only have time for one gay bill this session,” referring to the decision to push for the passage of a marriage-equality bill in the General Assembly.
Gender Rights Maryland wrote on its website that Miller’s lack of support ”remains the overwhelming roadblock” to the gender identity bill’s passage.
Dr. Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, says her organization has assurances from Assistant House Majority Leader Jim Hubbard (D-Prince George’s Co.) that he will help move the bill through the House, but only once the Senate approves the bill. Beyer adds that she understands why House leaders are reticent to move forward with their own version of the bill.
”I don’t view this as a philosophical problem,” she says. ”I view it as a process problem. You need to know, before you drop a bill, that you have the votes. And Del. Hubbard is not pursuing it because the Senate won’t pass it.”
Beyer says Gender Rights Maryland has been working to educate Miller on the difference between gay and transgender, and that Senate allies of the transgender community were working to lobby Miller to allow a floor vote on the bill.
Calls to Sen. Raskin’s office regarding his lobbying of Miller were not immediately returned.
Beyer says that advocates who wish to see the bill pass this session need to focus their energies on securing support from Miller and about seven to nine other senators thought to be in support of transgender protections and who voted to recommit a similar measure to committee last year.
Last year’s gender identity bill, which did not include provisions related to public accommodations, passed the House on an 86-52 vote and was approved by both the Senate Rules Committee and Judicial Proceedings Committee before it was recommitted to the Judicial Proceedings Committee on a 27-20 vote.
Still, Beyer says, advocates did ”exceedingly well” last year, noting that recent developments in the state show a shift in attitudes regarding protections for transgender individuals.
Howard County recently passed legislation to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment, public accommodations, financing, law enforcement and health and social services. Baltimore County is expected to vote this month on legislation that has been introduced that would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, education, public accommodations and financing.
Beyer also points to polling showing 63 percent of Marylanders support adding comprehensive protections for transgender individuals, and, unlike with marriage equality, there are no significant racial or geographic divides on the issue.
”Last year, people didn’t understand it; now I think they do” says Beyer. ”We have as much support in Prince George’s County as in Montgomery County.”