Ruling Inspires New Hope For Transgender People

Dana Beyer, a transgender woman, makes a toast Friday at a Silver Spring restaurant during a celebration of the anti-discrimination ruling.
Dana Beyer, a transgender woman, makes a toast Friday at a Silver Spring restaurant during a celebration of the anti-discrimination ruling. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2008

To Allyson Robinson, it means accompanying her young children to public restrooms in Montgomery County without worrying that someone will call the police.

For Colleen Fay, it brings the hope that the next time she applies for a driver's license she won't be badgered about her previous life as a man.

And for Chloe Schwenke, it means other people like her will be able to enjoy the job security she has found in her international development work in the District.

With the decision by Maryland's highest court last week to block a referendum petition, Montgomery County's law banning discrimination against transgender people takes effect immediately.

The measure, passed by the County Council last year, prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. It was to take effect in February but was put on hold when some religious and conservative groups launched a petition drive.

The court's ruling was an important political and symbolic victory for gay and transgender rights advocates. Council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), the bill's main sponsor, and Equality Maryland, the group that led the legal challenge, hosted a celebration Friday night at Jackie's Restaurant in Silver Spring.

But in interviews after the court's decision, transgender people throughout the Washington region said Montgomery's new law would be most meaningful in making the mundane details of day-to-day life a little bit easier. And they hope that it spurs action in neighboring jurisdictions.

"So I can walk into the office, wear a skirt and not be quite so afraid," said Fay, a transgender woman who lives in Prince George's County. "The little tiny things in life that most of the rest of humanity take for granted, we look at and say, 'That could be a hurdle as tall as the Empire State Building.' "

Opponents of the law, including some parents and religious groups, gathered more than 25,000 signatures to put the measure to a vote. They worried that the law was written so broadly that it could allow a cross-dressing man, for instance, to gain access to locker rooms at health clubs. They also unsuccessfully tried to add exceptions to the law for hiring by religious institutions and schools. To opponents, the court's decision disenfranchised the thousands of people who signed petitions.

But for transgender women such as Robinson, the County Council's passage of the law was a key reason she chose to live in Montgomery when she moved to the area this year from Texas to take a job at the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and transgender civil rights organization.

Before settling on a townhouse in Gaithersburg, Robinson and her family sought to rent an apartment. She worried, unnecessarily as it turned out, that the landlord would want to pull out of the lease upon meeting her. Until the law took effect this week, Robinson said, the landlord could have rejected her application because she is a transgender person.

In the past, Robinson has also worried about taking her four young children to public restrooms at restaurants, because she fears that someone will identify her as a transgender woman and call security.

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