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Still Separate, Still Unequal

Bill To Offer Equal Rights To Transgender Individuals Fails In State Senate

By Laura Laing | Posted 3/28/2007

A bill designed to offer anti-discrimination protection to Maryland's transgender population failed in the state's Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, surprising advocates. Introduced by senators Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore) and Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) Senate Bill 516 would have added "gender identity and expression" to the state's anti-discrimination clauses, protecting transgender citizens in employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations. Sexual orientation was added to the state's anti-discrimination laws in 2001.

"The senators just said that it's OK to discriminate against me," says Wendy, a transwoman who testified in favor of the bill and was profiled last month in a City Paper cover story about transgender people in Baltimore ("In Between Days," Feature, March 14). Wendy, a Baltimore County resident, has been looking for employment since she had sex-reassignment surgery last year. "This bill was not going to instantly get me a job," she says. "But it would have least started to pave the way."

Dan Furmansky, Equality Maryland's executive director, is dismayed by the 6-5 vote against the bill. "We had such minimal opposition to the legislation," he says. "Legislators on both committees were sympathetic." The bill was cross-filed in the House Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Gladden suspects that the floor debate could have been tough. "Right now we don't have strong advocates for this issue," she says. This is the first time that such legislation has been introduced, and Gladden believes that there are lots of opportunities for education.

"People don't understand the terminology," she says. "Those who are homophobic and anti-gay, they mixed transgender and gender identity with homosexuality."

Still, she says she was surprised that the measure did not pass. "It's very surprising to me, because I thought that the folks that testified presented compelling testimony," she says. During the House hearing in early February, there was only one voice of opposition, and on the Senate side, no one testified against the bill.

The biggest surprise for Furmansky and other advocates was a nay vote by Sen. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's County). Muse was unavailable for an interview, but his chief of staff, Denise Tyler, asserts that the senator did not promise to support the bill. Furmansky disagrees. "Sen. Muse committed to supporting the measure on a number of occasions to Equality Maryland lobbyists, and also expressed his support to the head of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, who came to testify for the measure," he wrote in a letter to Equality Maryland members.

"The simple fact that Muse would claim that he never offered support for the bill is insulting to Equality Maryland and all of the transgender people who still have no protections," Furmansky says.

Tyler wouldn't say exactly why Muse voted against the bill. "He voted against it because of technical issues," she says. But Furmansky says that Muse never raised a technical question about the bill.

Furmansky isn't the only one taken aback by Muse's vote. "I didn't understand," Gladden says. "I was shocked."

"It was clear that the Senate leadership was adamantly opposed to having this bill discussed on the floor," Furmansky asserts. "What I hear was that there was a fear that it would be filibustered" by Republicans. "There actually seemed to be a great deal of ambivalence on the part of Republicans."

Gladden agrees that a floor debate was likely the threat. It either would have embarrassed a legislator or forced someone to make a tough vote, she says. She promises to look at the issue again next year, and says that it might be an easier sell in the House.

"We had the votes for this bill in both committees and on the floor," Furmansky says. "We're deeply disturbed that this bill wasn't allowed to see the light of day."

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