By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com March 26 2011 1:35 PM ET
The Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act passed the Maryland house of delegates Saturday afternoon in its third and final reading. The measure now moves to the senate, where advocates feel hopeful about passage.
The 86-to-52 vote represented the first time a transgender rights bill has won approval in the full Maryland house. The bill, H.B. 235, would add gender identity protections to state antidiscrimination law in the areas of employment, housing, and credit.
"Every Marylander should expect to work or live in comfortable housing without fear of losing either because of who they are,” said delegate Joseline Pena-Melynk, lead sponsor of the bill, in a statement sent by Equality Maryland. “HB 235 provides the protection necessary to make sure that every Marylander can live without fear of discrimination."
Delegates approved the bill by a comfortable margin following a brief but at times bitter discussion in which opponents revealed their ignorance of gender identity concepts. According to a tweet from Metro Weekly reporter Yusef Najafi, Del. Joseph Minnick, a Baltimore County Democrat, mocked male-to-female transgender people he saw in the men’s restroom at the state capitol building in Annapolis and said that women should be “appalled” by the bill.
Following the Saturday vote, the bill will be sent to the senate, where a hearing still needs to be scheduled in the judicial proceedings committee. The full senate must vote on the bill before midnight on April 11 when the legislative session adjourns. Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to sign the legislation if it passes.
Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT lobbying group, expressed cautious optimism about the prospects for the bill in the senate. Last month the chamber approved the marriage equality bill that later stalled in the house of delegates.
“We’ve seen already the Maryland state senate move an equality bill this year,” she said in a telephone interview with The Advocate after the vote. “We’ve seen them take a stand for fairness and we feel they will do so gain. We feel confident but we have to work every step of the way.”
Democrats control both houses of the Maryland legislature. In the senate, the bill will be carried by Sen. Richard Madaleno, the chamber’s only openly gay member, and Sen. Jamie Raskin, the floor leader for the marriage equality bill.
Some transgender advocates have criticized the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act because it does not include protections in the area of public accommodations. Efforts to pass the bill in the past with those protections failed.
The final house approval on Saturday stood in stark contrast to the fate of the marriage equality bill, which two weeks ago was abruptly recommitted to committee on the day of the final scheduled vote, a surprise move that effectively shelved the legislation until 2012. The measure lacked one to two votes needed to pass.
Meneses-Sheets, who called the Saturday vote “beyond good news,” declined to discuss the reasons for the divergent paths of the two pro-equality bills.
“I don’t think I have a simple answer to that question,” she said. “It’s a very complex set of analyses that we’re doing now. We’re talking now about what surprised us and what we can do better next year."