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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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"You find yourself on guard, and mentally and emotionally prepared for that," Robinson said. "You just never know. For many of us, this kind of thing we fear happens rarely; for others it happens constantly, and the fear of it is very real."

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Montgomery followed 13 states, the District and more than 100 other local jurisdictions in passing protections for transgender individuals. Based on clinical and surgical reports, advocacy groups say that as many as 2,000 transgender people live in Montgomery.

In court, the two sides argued technicalities over deadlines and the number of signatures needed to put the law to a vote. The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court ruling that had sided with the law's opponents.

Fay said she hoped the media attention to Montgomery's action -- and the court's decision -- would embolden her county to follow and raise awareness to help demystify transgender people.

"It's invisibility that leads to fears and the icky factor that makes some people react by saying, 'I don't want to deal with that,' " said Fay, arts editor for WAMU radio's Metro Connection, a show she helped launch as Peter Fay in 1995.

In December, when Fay moved back to Maryland from the District after many years, her old driver's license information identified her as male. Fay said she was hassled by a motor vehicle clerk, who refused to change the designation to female.

Schwenke, an ethicist who works in international development, said she was nervous about approaching her employer about her planned transition but relieved to find her fears unfounded. Her office is in Northwest Washington, so she was protected by the District's anti-discrimination law.

"It makes an enormous difference," Schwenke said of the protections. "I was concerned that people would feel that I'd somehow be less competent or less able."

But the protections did not extend to Diane Schroer, a transgender woman who is pursuing a sex discrimination case against the Library of Congress under the Civil Rights Act in U.S. District Court. Schroer's job offer was rescinded the day after she told her prospective employer that she was undergoing the medical transition to become a woman.

Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, said Schroer's case illustrates why legal protections are necessary. A federal judge is expected to rule in the case soon. "There are people who react in an unthinking way to transgender people," he said.

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