Maryland lawmakers sidestep transgender protection bill

Posted on 14 Apr 2009 at 10:59am
By Kathleen Miller Associated Press

Opponents to measure say it would let men into women’s restrooms

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland’s transgender residents are worried the legislature will adjourn for the second year in a row without taking action on a bill that would prohibit discrimination against them.

The measure would make it illegal to discriminate against transgender people in housing and employment. Panels in the Senate and the House of Delegates heard testimony on the bill more than a month ago, but neither committee has taken a vote. The legislature is set to adjourn Monday.

"I think the committees would rather go along with delay tactics than actually have to take a tough vote on this," said bill sponsor Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery. "Do us a favor and take the vote, we’re grown-ups, we can take defeat."

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has had several scheduled votes on the bill this year, but chairman Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, said committee members keep requesting he delay votes.

"It’s very controversial and people have lots of questions," Frosh said, explaining that committee members have worried about definitions of terms used in the bill and how it would be applied. The measure also has not been voted on in the House Health and Government Operations Committee, chaired by Baltimore City Delegate Peter Hammen.

Activists say they are frustrated lawmakers won’t take a stand on legislation that exists in 13 states and many local jurisdictions, including Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

"In our current economic state, it seems the legislature would want to do anything possible to make sure people maintain jobs and housing right now," said Kate Runyon, director of gay and transgender rights group Equality Maryland.

Prince George’s County resident Alynna Lunaris, 38, says she’s one of the people the measure would help. Lunaris says she lost her job as an animal control officer and has been unable to find work since transitioning from presenting herself as a man three years ago.

"I find it rather odd that the first 34 years of my life, every single interview I had resulted in a job offer, and after 40 interviews in the past three years of my life — nothing," Lunaris said.

The bill previously prohibited discrimination in public accommodations as well, but bill advocates removed that provision in hopes of easing the bill’s passage. Groups opposed to such bans often complain the measures will result in men using women’s restrooms, and have used the concern to battle similar laws in Montgomery County, as well as Colorado and Florida.

"There are concerns about women’s privacy and safety," said Dr. Ruth Jacobs, who attempted to overturn the Montgomery County law.

Runyon said her organization and other activists agreed to alter the bill to remove the public accommodations clause in hopes they could get it to pass.

Jacobs said even if "bathrooms are off the table," she’s still worried.

"The government would be saying that you can be whatever you want to," Jacobs said. "Under these laws, people that want to accept the birth sex of a person are the ones that are not acceptable."

Transgender people do have Gov. Martin O’Malley on their side, however. O’Malley signed the Baltimore city anti-discrimination measure into law when he was mayor, and submitted written testimony in support of Madaleno’s bill.

"We must continue to work toward a legal and social environment in which all Marylanders enjoy the same guarantees of freedom and individual rights on which our State and country were founded," O’Malley wrote.

Madaleno said he was "very disappointed" that neither committee had voted on the legislation yet.

"Every obstacle they put in our way, every hoop they ask us to jump through, we do, only to find another hoop waiting on the other side," Madaleno said. "It’s unfortunate that it’s 2009 and we can’t convince legislators there are real people out there suffering the consequences of discrimination and whose lives could be improved by this simple measure."

On the Net: Read Senate Bill 566 http://mlis.state.md.us/2009rs/billfile/SB0566.htm
Read House Bill 474: http://mlis.state.md.us/2009rs/billfile/hb0474.htm

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