Md. Gender Identity Bill Dies in Senate

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com April 11 2011 12:15 PM ET

Maryland senators voted Monday to recommit the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act to committee, effectively killing any prospects for the bill to pass this session, which ends at midnight.

Shortly before 1 p.m. on the last day of session, senators voted 27 to 20 to recommit the bill to the judicial proceedings committee, which had advanced the measure by a 7 to 4 vote on Saturday. The move left no time to resurrect the bill in 2011.

The vote dealt a major setback to advocates, who just last week had rescued the bill from certain death in the rules committee, where it was unexpectedly assigned after passing the house of delegates last month by a vote of 86 to 52.  The legislation would have prohibited discrimination against transgender Marylanders in housing, employment, and credit, but not public accommodations, which became a rallying point for some transgender advocates who called the bill inadequate and urged lawmakers to defeat it.

Advocates for the bill entered Monday feeling confident about the vote count for the measure, known as H.B. 235. The measure had failed in previous years, but Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, the lead sponsor, made the controversial decision to remove public accommodations protections with the intention of securing sufficient support.

Pena-Melnyk was on the floor and unavailable for comment Monday afternoon, but other advocates shared their disappointment.

“We believe we had the votes,” said transgender advocate Dana Beyer in a telephone interview from Annapolis.“There was pressure from up top not to allow our side to move forward.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin, who championed the bill, attributed the setback in part to the senate leadership and to the jam-packed final day of business. He said the chamber received too little time to consider the measure, which originated in the house.

“We ran into resistance from the leadership and a fear that this was going to suck up all the oxygen on the last day of session,” he said. “I believe we lost some senators in that motion who were afraid that extended debate on the transgender civil rights bill would end up obstructing other legislation.”

Equality Maryland, the statewide advocacy group, provided a vote count that named six Democrats as backtracking on their promise to support the bill. The organization cited senators Edward Kasemeyer, Katherine Klausmeier, Nathaniel McFadden, Thomas Middleton, James Robey, and Robert Zirkin, who had voted in committee to advance the bill to the senate floor.

Robey was honored by Equality Maryland in 2009 for his work as a straight ally.

"Six senators who committed to support H.B. 235 took a walk on justice and fairness today and turned their backs on the most vulnerable members of our community,” Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, said in a statement. “We are appalled that lawmakers continue to play politics with much needed protections for the transgender community.”

The defeat reflects the shocking reversal of fortune encountered by the marriage equality bill this session. That bill passed the senate in February, but last month the house voted to recommit it to the judiciary committee, effectively pushing its hopes for passage to 2012.

Not all LGBT Marylanders were saddened by the vote to recommit the bill to committee, however. Ashley Love, who joined with Trans Maryland and Trans United to lobby against the bill, issued a statement of celebration.

“Transsexual and transgender people in Maryland, and around America, are rejoicing that the unjust H.B. 235 bill has been sent back to the committee,” she said. “Now we will be able to educate the senate why lifesaving public accommodations protections are basic human rights. We thank the senators who publicly acknowledged our concerns. Now Equality Maryland knows they have to enroll our community, via Trans United and Trans Maryland, to get community buy-in. The transsexual and transgender communities own their voices, not the gay and lesbian establishment. Full equality is the only option.”

Raskin said that from his perspective, the opposition of some transgender advocates was not the decisive factor in the outcome.

“It gave a little bit of cover to some people looking to be lukewarm in their support,” he said, while stressing overall how far the bill had come this year. “I’m disappointed because every day we don’t have this legislation is a day justice is denied for lots of people and we were asking for relatively simple things like nondiscrimination in housing and employment.”

Meneses-Sheets echoed his outlook in her statement.

“We must not forget all the positive strides we accomplished as a community this year overcoming significant hurdles, including getting this legislation out of the senate rules committee,” she said. “Supporters of this critical legislation made hundreds of phone calls and sent thousands of emails to their legislators. Countless members of the transgender community shared their very personal stories of discrimination. We are grateful to them for their courage and to every supporter who made their voice heard on this important bill.

“Equality Maryland remains committed to fighting against discrimination and injustice targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community at every turn. Progress takes time. Today's result was not fair or right, but we will keep up the fight to make the Free State truly free."