Maryland lawmakers debate transgender rights bill

by Scott Stiffler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Mar 19, 2009

As states across the country continue to debate transgender-specific legislation, a coalition of LGBT organizations, unions and politicians continue to push for legislation in Maryland that will add gender identity and expression to the state's non-discrimination laws.

Annapolis lawmakers debated a bill earlier this month that would prohibit discrimination against trans Marylanders. Openly gay state Sen. Richard Madaleno, Jr., [D-Montgomery County] introduced the bill, and Dr. Dana Beyer, a trans activist who is also the vice president of Equality Maryland, described the proposed legislation as "a civil rights and anti-discrimination bill."

The current legislative session ends on April 14. And if lawmakers fail to act on the bill, Beyer speculated they may wait until the 2010 gubernatorial campaign is over to revisit it.

"Generally, the leadership doesn't like dealing with social justice issues in an election year." she observed. "We will make the effort next year, though, because it's important to build momentum. There are 188 members of the Assembly. It takes time to educate them on what the issues are."

The bill remains in committee, which is stacked with relatively conservative senators that have traditionally resisted efforts to extend marriage to same-sex couples, to repeal the state's death penalty and other proposed legislation.

Beyer remains optimistic, however, Annapolis lawmakers will eventually support trans-specific legislation. And Equality Maryland continues to work with Progressive Maryland, the Maryland Retailers Association, the Service Employees International Union and other organizations to ensure this goal becomes a reality.

"There are more co-sponsors this year than there every have been in the past, and we remain hopeful that it can pass this session."

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia currently include gender identity and expression in their anti-discrimination laws. Former Baltimore Mayor and current Gov. Martin O'Malley signed an executive order in 2002 that added trans-specific protections to the city's statutes and Montgomery County passed similar legislation in 2007.

Lisa Mottet, transgender civil rights project director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, has worked on trans-specific bills for more than seven years. She has worked with activists in more than 30 states to propose legislation that mirrors Maryland's bill. Mottet asserted Madaleno's bill have a lot of support.

"There are more co-sponsors this year than there every have been in the past, and we remain hopeful that it can pass this session," she noted.

Mottet further said she feels the bill before Annapolis lawmakers is overdue. She added legislators in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and several other states that have added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination laws continue to consider adding trans-specific protections to their statutes.

Beyer conceded it could be difficult to pass this bill in the current legislative session.

"It's coming down to one or two people and you never know if you're going to be able to put together enough constituent pressure to move a bill through committee," she said. "Given the economic crisis, people are very distracted this year."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy’s at The Palace. . .at Don’t Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli’s 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.


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