Md. Senate Committee Sets Hearing for Gender Identity Bill

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee still seen as greatest hurdle to statewide transgender protections

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday afternoon to take up SB 212, the ”Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014,” a measure that would prohibit various forms of discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or expression.

Specifically, the bill would extend protections for transgender individuals in employment, housing, credit and the use of public accommodations. Four of the five county-level jurisdictions permitted under state law to enact their own nondiscrimination laws – Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County and Montgomery County, accounting for about half of the state’s population – have already adopted such protections. The remaining 19 counties, constituting about a third of the state’s population, can only secure such protections through a statewide law.

In December, the Hyattsville City Council unanimously approved the Hyattsville Human Rights Act, which prohibits similar forms of discrimination against a number of protected classes, including ”sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical characteristics.”

While no vote is expected at Tuesday’s hearing, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has in recent years proven to be the biggest roadblock standing in the way of equal treatment for Maryland’s transgender residents.

In 2011, a nondiscrimination bill that did not include protections for public accommodations passed out of committee 7-4, although Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore Co.) has since opposed public-accommodations protections. Sens. Norman Stone (D-Baltimore Co.), Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford, Cecil counties), and Christopher Shank (R-Washington Co.) have consistently opposed any form of gender-identity protections during their years on the committee.

Stephen Hershey (R-Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline counties), who was appointed to the Senate last September, is new to the committee, having taken the committee spot formerly occupied by Sen. Joseph Getty (R-Baltimore, Carroll counties). His stance on the bill is yet unknown.

A decision by Senate President Thomas V. ”Mike” Miller (D-Calvert, Prince George’s counties) to shuffle committee assignments during the 2013 session to ensure passage of a wind-energy bill, by replacing LGBT ally Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s Co.) with Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s Co.), also sours the SB 212’s chances.

While Muse seemed receptive to many of the witnesses testifying in favor of the bill said at last year’s hearing, he eventually voted against the bill, providing the crucial sixth vote to defeat it. Adding to the political calculus is that LGBT-rights organization Equality Maryland’s political action committee has already publicly endorsed Del. Veronica Turner (D-Prince George’s Co.) in her bid for the seat currently held by Muse.

Perhaps most disheartening for LGBT advocates is the fact that a 25 of 47 senators – more than enough to pass the bill were it to be brought up for a vote – have signed on as cosponsors of SB 212.

Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery Co.), the chief sponsor of SB 212, would not speak about any contingency plans in case the bill fails to pass the committee, saying only that he was working hard to lobby the committee members.

Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, confirms the Judicial Proceedings Committee remains the bill’s largest hurdle, though Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and all three Democratic candidates for governor – Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, and Del. Heather Mizeur (Montgomery Co.) – have expressed support for the measure.

”It is nice that there are friends and allies trying to get everything done, but recalcitrant senators are still recalcitrant senators,” says Beyer.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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