MARYLAND LAWMAKERS are weighing a bill that would prohibit discrimination against people born as one gender who assume the identity of the other, in some cases by surgery. There is compelling evidence that many such individuals are denied jobs, housing or credit on the basis of their gender identity. The legislation is a modest, fair and reasonable step in the direction of equal rights for a minority that continues to suffer widespread bias. It has already been passed by the House of Delegates in Annapolis, and it deserves support in the state Senate.
In recent decades, almost half the states, as well as hundreds of localities, have adopted laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Progress has been somewhat slower in the campaign to protect transgender individuals, but 13 states and the District have enacted legislation explicitly protecting them.
Some argue that existing laws, including in Maryland, already offer such protection implicitly. But sad experience suggests that this minority needs and merits explicit guarantees and protection under the law. Courts elsewhere have been inconsistent in applying broad anti-discrimination protection to this specific group.
A national survey conducted in late 2008 and early 2009 provides evidence of pervasive discrimination. The national results, mirrored closely by those for Maryland, showed that nearly 1 in 5 transgender individuals reported having lost a job because of gender identity. A similar proportion said they’d been denied housing. More than 80 percent said they’d been harassed in school, and 71 percent reported harassment or mistreatment in the workplace. Many also said they’d been the victims of physical assault and sexual violence.
In Annapolis, some lawmakers have derided the pending legislation as pertinent to just a small segment of the population or knocked it for being overly broad in defining the bias it seeks to ban. In fact, against such a grim panorama of prejudice, the legislation is, if anything, too timid.
It would forbid landlords, employers and bank officers from denying individuals housing, jobs and loans based on their gender identity. (Another provision that would have banned restaurants, hotels and shopping malls from refusing service to transgender individuals was dropped by the bill’s sponsors in order to ease the bill’s passage in the House.) Churches and other religious institutions would be exempt.
The state passed a law banning discrimination against gay people a decade ago, but transgender individuals were dropped from the legislation. Since then, attempts to repair that have failed at least four times in Annapolis, even as other states extended legal protections. Now it’s time for Maryland to do the right thing for a beleaguered minority that’s been abused and ignored for too long.