A Maryland senate committee heard testimony Thursday afternoon about the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, which could be considered by the full senate as soon as Friday.
Testimony in the judicial proceedings committee began shortly after 2 p.m. on House Bill 235, which would prohibit discrimination against transgender Marylanders in employment, housing and credit. The measure passed the house for the first time last month, but it nearly died in the senate after being unexpectedly assigned to the rules committee at first.
With just days remaining before the end of the legislative session on April 11, testimony from supporters and opponents in Annapolis was limited to 45 minutes per side. Attendees estimated that about 40 people appeared to testify.
During the hearing, Sen. Robert Zirkin, a Democratic committee member from Baltimore County, complained of receiving robocalls against the bill in the middle of the night. The calls were attributed to notmyshower.com, a website from Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government, which promotes scare tactics about mixed-gender restrooms.
Ruth Jacobs, leader of the MCRG, said that she opposes the bill because it would lead to transgender protections for public accommodations including bathrooms. The current legislation does not cover public accommodations, which has led some transsexual and transgender advocates to oppose it.
"We don't support H.B. 235 because it excludes public accommodations protections," said Ashley Love, who testified in opposition with Jenna Fischetti of Trans Maryland and others. "Our goal is to see the day that the governor signs gender identity anti-discrimination protections, covering public accommodations, into law. We'll accept nothing less," she said in an e-mailed statement.
Transgender advocate Dana Beyer, who supports the legislation, said the committee could vote in time to make it possible for the full senate to consider the bill Friday. She expressed guarded optimism based on the last-minute revival of the bill this week.
"I think we have enough strong Democrats who are willing to do the right thing on the judicial proceedings committee, and we know we have commitments on the senate floor," she said. "The question is, will they be there at the end of the day? Nobody is resting on their laurels."
As recently as this week, the Gender Identity Antidiscrimination Act appeared all but lost in the senate rules committee. A lobbying effort by constituents and elected officials, including the seven members of the Maryland legislature LGBT caucus, prompted senate president Thomas V. "Mike" Miller to move the bill to the judicial proceedings committee.
Equality Maryland, which led the effort to rescue the bill, said in a statement Thursday night that, "The Judiciary Proceedings Committee may vote as early as tomorrow. Advocates hope to see H.B. 235 favorably reported out of committee and sent to the full senate where they are working hard to shore up the necessary majority."
Morgan Menses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, said in a statement, "Equality Maryland remains committed to doing all that we can to move this critical legislation forward in time for full passage this year. With just a few days left we're in a difficult struggle for these important protections."