Metro Weekly

Generating Support for Gender Identity

Williams Institute study highlights need for expanding Maryland's nondiscrimination law

A study released earlier this month by a nationally recognized think specializing in research related to the LGBT community found that amending Maryland’s civil-rights law to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity statewide would extend existing protections to more than half of all Marylanders. Efforts at such a change in recent years have either been defeated in committee or been denied a vote by the full Maryland Senate.

According to the Williams Institute, which is affiliated with the University of California at Los Angeles Law School, passing a law that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression would cover the 53 percent of Marylanders living in the 20 counties where transgender people may be denied employment, housing, credit or the ability to use public accommodations. That would include approximately 9,200 transgender people who are thought to live in those counties, which include D.C. suburbs in Prince George’s, Charles, Anne Arundel and Frederick counties.

”This study highlights that the majority of Marylanders would benefit from a consistent, statewide law that protects against gender identity discrimination,” Christy Mallory, the author of the study, said in a statement. ”Additionally, a clear and uniform policy could also benefit businesses by eliminating the inconsistency of existing protections in the state.”

Currently, only four jurisdictions – Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County and Montgomery County – have laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression in employment, housing, credit and public accommodation. Howard County’s law goes a step further, preventing law-enforcement officers from harassing or discriminating against citizens based on protected characteristics, while Baltimore City’s law prohibits discrimination in public education and by its health and welfare agencies.

Maryland’s state employees are protected by an executive order signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity by stating that ”personnel actions” should be based on ”merit and fitness” and cannot take gender identity into account.

Advocates for expanded protections for transgender residents have been making many of the same arguments as Mallory for the past eight years, but have been unable to make headway, due in large part to behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the state Senate. In some years, as earlier in 2013, the measure has failed in committee. In other years, it has passed committee but has never received a full up-or-down vote by the upper chamber. In 2011, a similar bill that did not include protections in public accommodations passed the House of Delegates, 86-52, before being killed in the Senate.

Dr. Dana Beyer, the executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, says polling done during Maryland’s marriage-equality fight in 2012 showed that two-thirds of the state, including at least 60 percent of Prince George’s County residents, support nondiscrimination protections for transgender people. Beyer said the problem is not lack of support for the issue, but the structure of Senate committees.

”We don’t have a bill because we had the wrong committee assignments last year,” says Beyer, referring to a swap orchestrated by Senate leadership that placed Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s Co.) on the Judicial Proceedings Committee and Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s Co.) on the Finance Committee in the hope of passing a wind-energy bill, indirectly sinking gender-identity bill.

”All we need is to get it past the [Judicial Proceedings] Committee,” Beyer says, adding she is sure the bill will pass if given a vote on the Senate floor. Last year, 23 of 47 senators publicly cosponsored the measure, and Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery Co.) did not cosponsor but voted for the measure in committee, meaning there are at least 24 votes to pass the bill once it is taken up for a vote.

The LGBT-rights organization Equality Maryland has been holding a ”Summer of Supporters” campaign aimed at recruiting residents from various areas of the state to sign postcards that ask legislators to pass a gender-identity bill, explains Owen Smith, a field organizer for Equality Maryland.

Smith says that since the campaign launched July 1, organizers have collected more than 1,000 postcards and have hundreds more to count. That number, Smith says, does not include postcards collected prior to July. He says that Equality Maryland, one of the member organizations of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality, will deliver to individual legislators piles of postcards from constituents asking them to support the bill.

”We want to show every legislator that, regardless of where you live in the state, the people who live here, vote here and pay taxes here want these protections for everyone, and stand behind them,” says Smith.

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