In a historic vote, the Maryland legislature has finally approved a bill to grant trans citizens basic civil rights protections, but there are groups already working to overturn this important civil rights victory via a public ballot.
The legislation, known as House Bill 1265 or the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014, would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s gender identity in sectors like employment, housing, public accommodations and credit. It would also prohibit the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation from discriminating on grounds of gender identity. The legislation carries exemptions for small businesses and guest houses and mandates that while provisions should be made to accommodate people in gender transition, employees must still adhere to required dress codes and all other standards that are required of their self-identified gender. The legislation also serves to close some of the remaining gaps in protections for people based on their sexual orientation.
The legislation passed the Senate earlier this year in a 32-15 vote and, despite Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully attempting to amend the legislation to strip it of its public accommodations protections, it passed the House in a vote of 82-57 with two delegates not voting. The legislation now heads to Governor Martin O’Malley’s desk where he, a known supporter of the legislation, is expected to sign in the coming few weeks.
With this vote the Maryland legislature brings to a close what has been over 15 years of struggle. As such, a leading trans rights group the National Center for Transgender Equality has hailed the victory, saying it is part of a broader movement toward fairness and justice for all people. “With each new state joining the side of fairness and equality, we move closer to explicitly banning job discrimination against transgender people nationwide,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the NCTE is quoted as saying. “After years of advocacy and organizing in Annapolis, Maryland’s choice to stand behind transgender people is a reminder to our elected officials on Capitol Hill that it’s overdue for them to take action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”
With this legislation Maryland will join 17 states plus DC and Puerto Rico in protecting people on grounds of gender identity and gender expression in the employment, housing, credit and public accommodations sectors.
As we have previously reported, while religious conservative groups attempted to derail the bill by labeling it a “bathroom bill,” and with talk of how it would jeopardize the safety of women by supposedly leaving them vulnerable to men masquerading as women in women’s restrooms, it appears the campaign has fallen on deaf ears. The other talking point the Right has often used has been that the legislation will cause an influx of frivolous lawsuits. We have data and accounts from over 15 law enforcement professionals from areas where this kind of legislation is already in place to back up the fact that these aspersions simply aren’t true.
Perhaps that’s why a recent poll by Goucher College showed that an overwhelming majority of Marylanders (71 percent), across most demographics including race, gender and political divide (Republicans polled at 60 percent support compared to Democratic affiliates at 79 percent), supported all of the legal protections encompassed in this legislation.
Nevertheless, and unfortunately for Maryland, the Religious Right isn’t willing to admit defeat so easily. There have been suggestions of taking the bill to a public ballot, chiefly by Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), chairman of MDPetitions.com, and one of the leaders of an effort to put same-sex marriage to the ballot in 2012. While it is a possibility they could muster enough anti-trans animus to get the bill before voters it would take an extraordinary effort to reverse support for the Fairness for all Marylanders Act.
A public referendum would therefore have to rely on the kinds of scaremongering anti-trans groups have already used in their campaigns to defeat the bill, such as insinuating that seeing trans people in restrooms will “confuse” or “distress” children or that trans people might even sexually assault kids–these terrible accusations made, of course, with no evidence to back up their claims. As such, the campaign could prove derisive and even dangerous for trans citizens who already face heightened levels of prejudice. So do give a qualified celebration for this victory, but expect another ballot battle to defend these hard won rights because it’s likely it will come, and it will be bitter.
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