Maryland House of Delegates Votes 86-52 in Favor of Gender Identity Bill

Posted by Yusef Najafi
March 26, 2011 12:50 PM |

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 86-52 in favor of the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, House Bill 235, today, during the bill's third and final reading.

The bill now moves to the Senate's Judicial Proceeding Committee for amendments and according to the Maryland House's clerk office, will be voted upon on the Senate floor before the end of this year's legislative session on April 11.

[CLARIFICATION: Though it was reported that the Senate floor vote was expected on Monday, March 28, the Maryland House's clerk office clarifies that the bill needed to pass through the House floor before midnight on Monday, March 28, to be heard on the Senate floor before this year's legislative session wraps.]

During discussions leading up to the vote, which began at noon, Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery) said the bill is about ending discrimination and that transgender people are "normal." 

"There are not now, and never have been two simple boxes, male and female, that people fit into," Kelly said, "and that's okay."

Kelly's remaks followed those of Del. Joseph Minnick (D-Baltimore County), who mocked male-to-female transgender individuals he saw in the men's bathroom when the bill was in committee and said women should be "appalled" by the legislation. 

Del. Michael A. McDermott (R-Wicomico and Worcester) was vocal about voting against the legislation. 

"We're dealing with folks who don’t have a compass," he said, "they're not sure which direction points up."

Del. Rudolph Cane (D-Dorchester and Wicomico) said the bill is about ending discrimination. 

"We're telling you to do that [which] is fair and honest with people and protect [people's] rights," he said, "I'm voting green on this bill, because I don't want the word bully to be labeled to me. I want people to live good."

Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George's), lead sponsor of the bill, talked about how it has taken four years to get the gender identity bill to the House floor, and the difficulty in taking out "public accommodations." She said she has spoken to many members of the LGBT community who are angry about the removal of "public accommodations." She said the debate heard on the House floor is exactly why she removed it, so the bill would not be killed. 

"I did so because the political reality is I could not have gotten the bill out," she said, "look at the discussion here today."

"You have to forgive me I told them," she added, "it's not what you want, it's not perfect, but it gives you protection."

Pena-Melnyk said she decided to speak after being disheartened by what she described insensitive remarks made on the House floor about transgender and gender non-conforming people.

"We need this bill because of what you heard here today," she said, tearing up.

"We have to protect our children against everyone .... I have three, but don't assume that [transgender people] are criminals. It is wrong to assume that they are criminals."

If signed into law, the legislation would prohibit discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, licensing and commercial leasing against transgender Marylanders.

While Equality Maryland has been fighting hard to get the legislation passed, opponents of the legislation also 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. 

But similar legislation, which included protections for transgender people with regard to Maryland public accommodations, has failed in the past.

H.B. 235 marks the first time Equality Maryland has been able to get a gender identity anti-discrimination effort past committee and now the House floor. 

[UPDATE @ 1:15PM: Speaking to Metro Weekly immediately following the vote, Pena-Melnyk said she was pleased but very concerned about the bill's movement in the Senate.

"I'm concerned because in the past the support has not been there [in the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee], 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."

Transgender activist Dana Beyer and Lisa Deane-Polyak, who serves as vice president of Equality Maryland's board of directors, where in attendance in the House chambers to monitor the vote.

"We have a plan to go ahead," Beyer said. "Obviously its died, it's been killed the last four years in JPR, so it's a consideration, however, the composition in the Senate and of the JPR has changed. Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery) is a hero to many people, and he's running with the bill, so I'm very hopeful that we will see a different result." 

Deane-Polyak said she was gratified by passage of the bill, and the floor speeches in favor of the legislation, including one by Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), who admitted to being wrong on this issue in the past. 

"Their speeches came through with the real authenticity and the real truth of this matter, which is that these folks are disproportionably subject to harm, this bill administratively is a step in the right direction of making all people equal under the law."

In a statement released following the vote, Equality Maryland's executive director Morgan Meneses-Sheets said the organization is "proud" of the House.

"We are proud of the 86 Delegates who stood up for fairness today by voting to support H.B. 235. All hardworking people in our state, should have a chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families.  Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job skills or work performance. There is still work to do, but today, we're one step closer in seeing all transgender Marylanders are treated fairly under the law."

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

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