Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Transgender Bill Killed By a Close Vote in Committee

A bill protecting transgender people from discrimination had strong support in the Maryland legislature, but was killed in the state Senate Judicial Proceedings committee last week by a vote of 6-5.

From an Equality Maryland press release:
"This is an incredibly sad day for our staff, lobbyists, boards, and legislative allies," said [Equality Maryland] Executive Director Dan Furmansky. "This legislation was our number one priority, and there is simply no excuse for any legislator to oppose legislation that aims to protect people from arbitrary discrimination. We had the votes both on the House and Senate floor so to have this killed by one vote in committee stings."

Senate Bill 516, sponsored by Lisa Gladden (D - Baltimore), was heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee earlier this month and marked the first time in U.S. history that a state bill on transgender rights had no written or oral opposition. Maryland would have become the 10th state to prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals. Baltimore City passed similar legislation in 2002. Equality Maryland Deeply Disappointed By Defeat Of Transgender Equality Legislation

Somebody mentioned to me the other day they thought the case for transgender rights is stronger than for gay rights.

The thing is, the real problem for transgender people is that their private and public selves are at odds. They don't feel like what they look like. So, more than sexual orientation, gender identity is something that can't be managed, really, in private. It's when you're talking to people, and you know constantly that they're not looking at the real you, that there's a problem. After enough years, a person who feels like that figures out that the feeling isn't going to go away; correcting the problem requires an adjustment of their public appearance. And that attracts attention, confuses people, upsets people, makes them uncomfortable.

Talk to these people: it's not a joke, it's not a whim. The decision to make the transition is not like deciding to get a tattoo, or deciding to hold your cigarette a certain way -- the decision to change your public identity means that you've decided to brave all the derision of people who don't understand, in order to get your own life in order, to stop living a lie. It's a brave and extremely difficult decision, and I have the suspicion there are a lot of people out there who feel they are living a false life, but don't have the courage to change.

Some concepts of gender identity will be discussed in the new tenth-grade curriculum. The CRC tries to make it sound like tomboys and sensitive boys will label themselves as transgender in the new sex-ed curriculum, and they incessantly point out that Gender Identity Disorder is in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as if that implied that there was something ... I don't know what they mean to imply, other than that they're better than "those people." The idea that it's in the DSM doesn't seem to advance their case in any way, but only makes it sound like there's something "wrong" with some people. Why is that a threat to members of the CRC?

More from Equality Maryland:
All of the Republicans on the committee voted against the bill. Two Democrats also voted against the bill -- Norm Stone of Baltimore County, who had earlier indicated that he would consider supporting the bill, and C. Anthony Muse (D - Prince George's County), whose district covers the Ft. Washington/Camp Springs area. 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. It's not uncommon for Senate leadership to orchestrate the defeat of a bill for which there would otherwise be sufficient support for passage.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Lisa Gladden, expressed disappointment and resolve. "Although this bill was voted down," she said, "we made tremendous progress on educating the committee and the members of the General Assembly on this important issue and we will reintroduce and pass this bill next year."

Furmansky echoes this sentiment: "The overwhelming majority of the General Assembly support this crucial civil rights legislation and we will continue our important work across Maryland to educate people on the lives of transgender individuals and the arbitrary discrimination this community faces. We will return in 2008 stronger than ever to pass this long overdue measure."

There is a certain amount of stiff-upper-lip in the state these days, as people who really wanted to see this pass have to settle for appreciating how close it came. I think the consensus is that there is a good amount of momentum built up, at least, and next year it will probably go through. In the meantime, some people will have some 'splainin' to do -- the backroom aspect of this vote is nontrivial.

It was a close vote in the committee; there is no chance this issue will just die and blow away.


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