Maryland Republicans signal fight on transgender-rights bill

Maryland House of Delegates

A bill that would extend protections to transgender Marylanders by prohibiting various forms of discrimination based on a person’s gender identity passed its second reading in the Maryland House of Delegates Wednesday, but House Republicans indicated they intend to vehemently oppose the bill and will attempt to sidetrack it by offering several amendments during the bill’s third reading on Thursday.

The bill, SB 212, prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations, and passed the state Senate on a largely party-line vote, 32-15. On Tuesday, it passed out of the House Health and Government Operations Committee by a 13-9 vote, with only one Democrat, Del. John Donoghue (D-Washington Co.) voting against it.

On Wednesday, both Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington Co.) and Del. Anthony O’Donnell (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert counties) made motions to place the bill on “special order,” which would have delayed the bill’s second reading until Thursday, thereby pushing its final and third reading further back in an attempt to gin up opposition to the measure.

Parrott’s motion failed, 47-87, and O’Donnell’s failed, 50-83, which, if all the “no” votes stay united in their support, would give the bill the votes needed to pass.

Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore, Harford counties), the House Minority Whip tasked with ensuring individual Republican members adhere to the party line, offered two amendments that would have stripped all language dealing with protections for transgender people in public accommodations from the bill, but later withdrew her amendments. In 2011, the House of Delegates was able to pass a gender identity nondiscrimination bill, 86-52, but only after stripping public accommodations from the bill’s text.

Supporters of SB 212 expect House Republicans to offer a number of different amendments similar in scope to those offered by Szeliga during the bill’s third reading in an effort to halt its progress through the lower chamber. To avoid the bill being sent back to the Senate for reconsideration, supporters must vote down any and all amendments that would change the language of or provisions in the bill.

Parrott and O’Donnell, both of whom have anti-LGBT voting records and were involved in the effort to repeal Maryland’s marriage equality law in 2012 via a ballot referendum, are expected to attempt a similar effort if the gender identity bill passes the House and is signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). 

Opponents, both inside and outside of the legislature, have derided the bill as “the bathroom bill,” claiming that they are trying to protect women and girls in restrooms and locker rooms from potential sexual predators. But police in other states with nondiscrimination protections for transgender people, and police in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County and Montgomery County – all of which already prohibit discrimination based on gender identity –have reported no such problems as opponents suggest.

Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick Co.) is among those detractors. In an e-mail blast to constituents, Afzali derisively referred to the bill as a “bathroom bill,” even going so far as to crack a joke that labeled transgender women as “a guy in a dress.”

“I want to take this opportunity to let you know that I am completely and unequivocally opposed to this bill, which doesn’t aim to end discrimination, but to normalize abnormal behavior,” Afzali wrote of HB 1265, a House version sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) that is similar to SB 212. “HB 1265 seeks to create a new class of protected individuals in the state’s anti-discrimination statute. Specifically, the bill defines ‘gender identity’ as ‘appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.’ It is important tat Maryland does not separate one’s ‘gender identity’ and their ‘assigned sex at birth’ as noted in the bill. Like the majority of Marylanders, I share the view that this redefinition rejects our society’s understanding of human nature.”

This is not the first time that Afzali has been caught using right-wing talking points in her constituent emails. During the 2012 fight over Question 6, the pro-marriage equality ballot measure, Afzali sent out an email that employed debunked myths about same-sex marriage in other states, statements disparaging gay parents, racially-loaded assertions, and statements implying homosexuality is a choice. She also railed against the Civil Marriage Protection Act that the legislature had passed, saying that the bill would “strip the roles of men and women from marriage, making it a ‘genderless’ institution.”

In the email, Afzali joked, “So, ladies, if you happen to see a guy in a dress in the restaurant bathroom, you’ll know the bill passed and I voted NO!”

Other opponents, including the Family Research Council, Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government and the Maryland Catholic Conference, have used similar language during testimony before the legislature.

But a recent poll by Goucher College on the proposed bill to prohibit gender-identity discrimination indicates that a wide swath of Marylanders, including majorities of every racial, gender or political subgroup within Maryland, support providing such legal protections to transgender people. 

[Photo: Maryland House of Delegates. Credit: Holley St. Germain/Flickr.]

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

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