Maryland Coalition Launches ”Stand for Fairness” Campaign

Multimedia outreach effort supports new transgender-rights law ahead of possible ballot backlash

The Maryland Coalition for Transgender Equality (MCTE) — a bloc of more than 50 political, social-justice, religious and community groups advocating on behalf of transgender rights — on April 16 launched a campaign aimed at educating the public about a recently passed transgender-rights bill that is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

The bill, SB 212, which is also known as the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, passed the Maryland Senate 32-15 and the House of Delegates 82-57 in March. It prohibits discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or expression in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations. Such laws already exist on the local level in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County and Montgomery County, as well as in the city of Hyattsville, Md.

The new multimedia campaign, “Stand for Fairness,” aims to counter misconceptions about the details and impact of the legislation in hopes of building broad support for its nondiscrimination provisions. As part of that effort, the campaign will provide answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” about SB 212, and provide personal stories from transgender Marylanders and allies who may be impacted by the law. The coalition is urging allies of the transgender community tosign a pledge that they back the legislation, which will also allow the coalition members to recruit volunteers and keep supporters informed of the campaign’s progress.

“The Stand for Fairness campaign will give our broad base of supporters the opportunity to share all the reasons why they support fairness for transgender Marylanders, as well as put a face to the issue by elevating the stories of transgender people facing discrimination,” Carrie Evans, the executive director of Equality Maryland, one of the chief members of the Coalition for Trans Equality, said in a statement. “This year Maryland’s elected officials stood for fairness by passing The Fairness for All Marylanders Act. Now we’re working to make sure Marylanders in every corner of the state understand the bill.”

The multimedia campaign could also serve as a pre-emptive strike against an attempt by opponents to petition the law onto the 2014 ballot. The right-wing website MdPetitions.com, which successfully petitioned the 2012 marriage-equality law onto the ballot, thereby forcing supporters to run an ultimately successful but expensive campaign to defend the law, has already been reaching out to its supporters to gauge support for collecting 55,736 valid signatures from registered voters needed to force a referendum in November.

Although a Goucher College poll in March found that 71 percent of Maryland residents supported including gender identity in the state’s nondiscrimination laws, opponents have tried to portray the bill as harmful to society and a threat to the safety of women and girls in public restrooms, derisively referring to the measure as “the bathroom bill.” Opponents have also recycled one of their chief arguments from the 2012 marriage debate, claiming the expanded protections for transgender individuals do not provide sufficient protections or exemptions for religious employers or organizations.

“Educating Marylanders about this law is essential,” Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), the chief sponsor of the gender-identity bill in the House of Delegates, said in a statement. “During debate in the House of Delegates, we heard a lot of incorrect and misleading statements being made. I am glad to see that MCTE is initiating this discussion on the law.”

Other members of the coalition also released statements praising the campaign and highlighting its importance in informing Marylanders about the provisions within SB 212.

“HRC has worked on this law for many years, and we want to ensure the public is informed about the elements of this law,” said Marty Rouse, HRC national field director.

“As a transgender woman, it’s important to me for my fellow Marylanders to know that the Fairness for All Marylanders Act is about my ability to get a job, have a roof over my head, or take my son to dinner at a restaurant without being denied basic rights just because I’m transgender,” said Jenna Fischetti of TransMaryland.

Added Vann Michael of Black Transmen, in a statement, “Now is the time for Marylanders to show that we have zero tolerance for discrimination, and stand for fairmess!”

For more information about Stand for Fairness or the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality, visit mdtransequality.org.

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

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