Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel, Prince George's), the lead sponsor of a bill that would have provided some protections to transgender Marylanders had it not been shelved during the 2011 legislative session, addressed her colleagues in an open letter, regarding the recent attack of a transgender woman and candlelight vigil which has been scheduled for tonight.
"Incidents such as this illustrate why the transgender community in Maryland and elsewhere needs to be protected through antidiscrimination legislation," Pena-Melnyk, writes.
Pena-Melnyk's comments refer to Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, who was physically attacked at the McDonald's at 6315 Kenwood Ave. in Rosedale, Baltimore, by a 14-year-old woman and an 18-year-old woman, after trying to use a bathroom there. The incident was recorded on a portable phone by a McDonald's employee who was fired on Saturday. A candlelight vigil is scheduled to take place outside the restaurant at 7 p.m., on Monday, April 25.
The vigil is being planned Trans-United, TransMaryland, the Baltimore County for Equality, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and other allies.
"Supporters of House Bill 235 in this past legislative session recognized this need and stood up for the rights of this community," Pena-Melnyk says.
"While HB235 did not include protection from discrimination in public accommodations due to the intense pressure opponents placed on the bill’s supporters, the bill would have raised public awareness of the issue and paved the way for complete protection for Maryland’s transgender population."
"Contrary to statements made by those who should be leading the fight for civil rights in Maryland, this was not an anti-family bill, but a basic civil rights bill. The failure of this bill goes against Maryland’s long history of being in the forefront of civil rights movements. This attack, which took place in District 8, has been broadcast all over the national news, and the video has gone viral, bringing shame to the State of Maryland for allowing such things to take place. I challenge each of the Senators who voted to recommit HB235 on sine die to serve as primary sponsors of a stronger version of HB235 in the 2012 legislative session."
"It is time to rectify the wrong that has been done to transgender citizens of our State."
[UPDATE: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz issued a statement to Metro Weekly on Monday afternoon, calling the attack "vicious" and a "wake up call."
"Last week's beating of Chrissy Lee Polis in Rosedale once again reminds us of our responsibility as citizens to do all that we can to ensure that our neighborhoods provide a safe and welcoming environment for residents and visitors," he says.
"Although this vicious attack was an isolated incident and in no way reflects on the Baltimore County or Rosedale communities, it does serve as a wake up call that we all have a role to play in moving society forward. It is the conversations around our dinner tables and the casual chatter among friends that develop patterns of behavior."
"Each and every one of us plays a role in deciding what kind of a society we deserve and what kind of a society we will help create. I have every confidence that Police Chief Jim Johnson and State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger will address this matter professionally, as they address all issues of public safety in Baltimore County. But it is not only their responsibility to make us safe and secure. That responsibility is shared by each of us who call Baltimore County home."]
Maryland activist Cathy Brennan, who is also a spokesperson for Baltimore County for Equality, a organization formed recently in an effort to work to amend the county anti-discrimination ordinance, plans to attend the vigil. Reacting to Kamenetz's comments, Brennan said she is hoping the organization can collaborate with him in the future.
"We look forward to working with the county executive to help Baltimore County move forward and adopt these important civil rights protections to ban discrimination based on gender identity," she said.
"As members of a civil society, it is our duty to stand up and send a clear message that all Marylanders, including our transgender brothers and sisters, are worthy of equal protection under the law."
[Photo: Pena-Melnyk, by Yusef Najafi]