Less than a week after Maryland lawmakers approved same-sex marriage, a state legislative committee has turned its attention to another contentious issue: whether to forbid discrimination against transgender people.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings committee heard testimony this week on a bill that would prohibit discrimination in public accommodations, housing and employment based on “gender identity,” which would take its place alongside race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation and disability.
Unlike same-sex marriage, the transgender discrimination ban is not part of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) agenda. But last May, following a nationally publicized beating of a transgender woman in Baltimore County, O’Malley released a statement saying “more must be done to protect the rights and dignity” of transgender people.
At least 13 states, the District and more than 100 counties and cities nationwidehave laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. Four local governments in Maryland have approved such measures: Baltimore and Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties.
“Now we need statewide protections for the kids across Maryland who are not so lucky,” Catherine Hyde of Howard County, who has an 18-year-old transgender daughter, said in her testimony to state senators.
“The degree of discrimination that transgender people suffer is exceptionally severe,” said Eva Hersh, a Baltimore physician who said she treats many transgender patients. “Many people question the right of transgender individuals to exist at all,” she said.
At a lengthy hearing on Tuesday, transgender residents of Maryland told senators of being fired, harassed or denied promotions because of their gender identity. Baltimore resident Jenna Fischetti said she lost her job at a luxury car dealership a few days after a co-worker, who knew Fischetti as a male, saw her dressed as a woman. “There’s no excuse for that. Absolutely none,” Fischetti said.
The Baltimore County Council passed its transgender discrimination ban only last week, on a 5-2 vote, almost a year after Chrissy Lee Polis, a 22-year-old transgender woman, was attacked as she tried to use the bathroom at a Rosedale McDonald’s restaurant. A video of the incident, taken by a McDonald’s employee and circulated on YouTube, sparked national controversy.
The debate surrounding the Baltimore County bill centered largely on bathrooms, with many detractors claiming the protections regarding public accommodations would lead to women being sexually assaulted by men pretending to be women.
Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), the bill’s lead sponsor, said he considered playing the McDonald’s beating video during Tuesday’s hearing, but he “didn’t want to play to people’s fears about bathrooms.”
One committee member, Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), voiced such a concern, saying a statewide anti-discrimination law could be seen by some men as a license to enter a female bathroom. “I’m worried about someone who wakes up one day and says, look what the state of Maryland just did. I feel like a woman today,” he said.
Supporters of the bill said such incidents have not occurred in states and municipalities that have passed transgender protections.
Several Maryland women testified in opposition to the bill, citing bathroom safety concerns. In addition, a handful of religious advocacy groups filed letters opposing the bill. The Maryland Catholic Conference argued giving explicit protection to transgender people would be a “fundamental violation of our society’s basic understanding of the human person.”
Last year, the House of Delegates passed a bill that would have provided greater anti-discrimination protections for transgender people in the areas of housing, employment and lending. That bill died in the Senate, however. In 2010, a similar bill had hearings in both chambers but received no further action.
Staff Writer John Wagner contributed to this report.