A group of conservative activists in Maryland failed to collect enough signatures to force a referendum on a new Maryland law that gives legal protections to transgender individuals.

The activists say they collected more than 17,500 valid signatures from Marylanders who wanted voters to weigh in on the new law on the November ballot. That’s about 1,000 signatures short of what they needed to hit their first deadline, said Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), who organized the effort.

“It is difficult to come this close and then fall short, and yet we know that it was only through this effort that people became aware of the effects of this bill,” Parrott said in an e-mail to supporters Sunday morning, soon after the deadline passed.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014 into law last month. The new law bans discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing and public places. It includes an exemption for religious organizations, private clubs and educational institutions.

“We are One Maryland — united in a belief in the dignity of every individual,” O’Malley said in a prepared release Sunday. “Marylanders stand on the side of fairness and progress.”

Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans said the petition was “mean-spirited” and that the state should celebrate its failure. Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the protection legislation, said in a statement that he was “finally able to exhale.”

“While it was gratifying to see this law pass the General Assembly and to watch the governor sign it, we all knew that it was not a done deal until we saw whether opponents could muster up signatures,” Madaleno said. “The time for attacking principles of basic fairness for Marylanders has passed.”

Under the Maryland constitution, recently passed laws can be petitioned to the ballot by gathering signatures from the equivalent of 3 percent of those who voted in the last race for governor, which this year is around 55,700.

MDPetitions.com — which is led by Parrott — has led the efforts that resulted in referendums on the extension of in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants, same-sex marriage and a congressional redistricting plan. All three measures were upheld by Maryland voters. The group also tried, but failed, to gather enough signatures to put the repeal of the death penalty to a vote.

In challenging the new protections for transgender individuals, Parrott and other activists focused on one provision of the legislation that allows a person who was born male to use women’s restroom facilities if that person identifies as female.

They warned that such a law will enable sexual predators to assault women and girls and dubbed the legislation the “Bathroom Bill.” At a press conference announcing the petition, the group hung a banner showing a stick-figure man climbing over the wall of a stall to look at a stick-figure woman.

Restrooms were included in the legislation because lawmakers said transgender people often are often ridiculed and sometimes assaulted when they use restrooms assigned to the genders of their birth. Supporters of the bill argued that there is no evidence that the law will be used by sexual predators to commit crimes, and criticized opponents for their insensitivity.

“This bill is not just about fairness or nondiscrimination,” Parrott said in his message to supporters. “[T]his nonsense bill will have the unfortunate side effect of allowing predators to enter bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, etc. and no one can stop them – until it is too late.”

As the issue was debated in the Maryland House of Delegates earlier this year, Parrott challenged the notion of being transgender and said that God created men as men, and women as women.