INFIGHTING

Why Are Maryland’s Trans Activists Celebrating The Death Of The Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill?

Maryland’s Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill (HB 235) would have prohibited employment, housing, and credit discrimination against transgender and transsexual residents. But even though the bill made it out of the state House with a very supportive 86-52 vote, it now it looks like the bill might die in the Senate Rules Committee. So why are Trans Maryland, Trans United, and other trans activists hoping it dies while Equality Maryland is asking people to pressure senators to get it out of committee? Namely because HB 235 doesn’t go far enough in protecting transfolk against basic forms of public discrimination.

Although Equality Maryland (EQMD) led the lobbying effort for the bill, it angered many trans activists — including the only trans-specific organizations in Marlyland — because the bill’s lead sponsor Joseline Pena-Melnyk removed public accommodations rights to help get the votes it needed to pass. (Public accommodation rights protect Ts from discrimination in public transit, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, and bathrooms. Any firm doing business with “the public” must fall into line.)

And with a 60 percent bi-partisan majority House vote, the compromise that removed public accommodations might have been unnecessary in the first place. Meanwhile, given how standalone pro-trans public accommodations bills often get vilified as predatory “bathroom bills” by transphobic conservatives, the likelihood of standalone PA bill getting passed in a future legislative session seems dim.

One need only consider the story of Tyra Hunter to understand the necessity of including public accommodations in these protections.

Hunter was a transsexual woman who died after a car accident because firefighters responding to the scene refused to render care; firefighter Adrian Williams even called Hunter a “nigger” with a “dick.” A hospital doctor at the since-closed emergency room where Hunter was brought also refused to render care that could have saved her life. A jury awarded Hunter’s mother $1.75 million because the DC Fire Department violated a 1977 DC Human Rights Law requiring them to render care. Furthermore, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) requires ERs to render lifesaving treatment regardless of legal status.

(Public accommodations protections for trans individuals would have provided additional protections against the kind of discrimination Hunter faced by mandating all public service workers to provide care, service, and room for trans individuals. It would not only explicitly forbid trans discrimination in life threatening emergency room situations, but would also guarantee access for trans people to gyms, restaurants, hotels, transit, bathrooms and other day-to-day places.)

As more states work to enshrine trans-protections in their laws, Maryland’s bill could help set an important standard and precedent in how other states’ should frame their trans-equality legislation to guarantee full protection everywhere.

EQMD helped shape the bill to include protections for a person’s gender identity and presentation, and they’ve spent the last few months gathering support for the bill via their website and Facebook page, but the rancor over the bill’s lack of public accommodations reveals the split between it and the states’ trans organizations, who say EQMD doesn’t speak for them. National human rights advocate Ashley Love and others had their Facebook comments deleted and posting rights revoked for repeatedly challenging EQMD’s depiction of the bill as being “fully inclusive” and criticizing EM for not consulting the trans community when shaping the bill.

Sandy Rawls, executive director of Baltimore-based Trans United, tells Queerty, “Equality Maryland has promoted a few transgender supporters of HB235, yet they are either donors or prior board members of EqMD, and are all white and of means, making them out of touch with the majority. In the real world, most trans people don’t have the privileges of financial security. Trans United services many African American Marylanders who desperately need public accommodations protections. HB 235 ensures trans minorities have no accommodations available, similarly, the issue of public accommodations is what launched the civil rights movement.”

AmericaBlog and Pam’s Premium Blend have both accused State Sen. Brian Frosh of holding up the bill as co-chair of the Rules Committee, where proponents fear it will die a quiet death. But the bill’s sponsor in the House of Delegates, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, specifically named Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, as the one responsible for diverting the bill to the Senate Rules Committee saying, “Mike Miller wants it dead, it’s that simple. Out of 94 bills that the House passed and sent to the Senate in a timely fashion, this was the only bill that went to the Rules Committee — the only bill.”

And while EQMD is asking its supporters to help send 2,000 emails today urging senators to get the bill on the floor before the Senate’s April 11 recess, Trans Maryland’s media director Jenna Fischetti tells Queerty, “Trans Maryland welcomes the Senate’s decision to refer HB235 to the Rules Committee, which appears to be in response to the great public outcry over its gross deficiencies. Senator [Brian E.] Frosh confirmed his office was inundated on Monday by calls from the transsexual and transgender community over the removal of public accommodations. Not once in the history of trans specific civil rights has a state enacted protections for public accommodations only, once a prior law was in place.”

Had the bill stayed active in the Senate it had the possibility of being amended to include public accommodations, and there would have been a public hearing so Maryland’s trans activists could get their concerns about the lack of public accommodations on the official record. And even though the bill’s fate remains uncertain, on her blog Trans Forming Media, Love called the prospect of the bill’s death a potential “blessing in disguise” that would allow it to be re-proposed next year in its full and original version — with public accommodation protections.

It all boils down to the fact that Maryland’s trans-specific organizations do not agree with how the state’s foremost equality group has represented the trans community’s needs. “We thank Senator Frosh for acknowledging that many transsexual and transgender people disagree with Equality Maryland compromising the bill, and Senator Madaleno for stating that ‘although much of the attention… is on marriage equality…it cannot overshadow efforts to enact these essential protections [of] gender identity discrimination [protections], a basic human right,'” says Love.

“The tide is shifting. Elected officials are realizing that the LGBT movement does not always serve, prioritize or accurately represent TS/TG Americans. This HB 235 controversy has shown the whole country that it’s time for the transsexual, transgender and intersex coalition to take back their voice.”