Coming off the heels of a successful campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, LGBT advocates — joined by student leaders and university officials — are hopeful that a transgender anti-discrimination bill will make its way to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk this legislative session.
The Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2013, introduced by Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery), would prohibit discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment and applying to redit card companies and banks for credit. A similar bill was introduced during the 2011 legislative session but did not pass the Senate. But given the success of same-sex marriage in the state, where for the first time in the country it passed at the hands of the voters, some say the bill has enough momentum to pass.
“The marriage debate has absorbed so much time, energy and attention over the last few years that a lot of other issues of importance to the LGBT community have sort of fallen by the wayside,” said Marilee Lindemann, director of this university’s LGBT studies program. “I’m especially pleased that in Maryland, almost the moment the marriage victory was secured, people’s attention turned to this issue.”
In February, the university’s Student Government Association voted to support the new anti-discrimination act. SGA President Samantha Zwerling said it’s important the body vote on such issues, even if they aren’t explicitly directed at students in the way tuition increases or the University System’s budget are.
“It’s really important for people to acknowledge that students aren’t only students and that we’re also citizens of this state; we’re voting members of this state that have full rights just like everybody else,” Zwerling said. “It’s really the government’s job to make sure that we’re representing students, not only as students but as citizens.”
And legislators should listen to college students, Zwerling said, especially because they tend to support gender equality issues. In November, more than 70 percent of students who voted on the campus voted in favor of same-sex marriage.
“Especially with our generation, you’re just seeing a lot more inclusiveness just in general,” Zwerling said. “We do have students that are affected by this legislation and do identify with this community.”
Without such a bill, transgender individuals are more likely to be the target of discrimination, Lindemann said.
“It’s important to have explicit protections for gender nonconforming people,” Lindemann said. “In the absence of those protections, they can be and have been discriminated against in a variety of ways in things like housing and accommodations and employment.”
But the bill is not without its critics. Opponents have said the best solution is not to push legislation, but to help transgender people seek counseling and come to terms with their biological identity.
“The solution to this problem is not actions — up to and including self-mutilating surgery amputating healthy body parts — which will reinforce this disconnect with reality,” said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies of the Family Research Council, in testimony against the bill. “The solution is compassionate counseling aimed at helping the individual to uncover the psychological roots of their gender identity problems, and to become comfortable with one’s actual biological sex.”
Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) introduced the bill in the House of Delegates in 2011. It faced its biggest hurdles in the Senate, where the leadership never brought the bill to the floor for a vote. Luke Jenson, the director of the LGBT Equity Center at this university, said he was skeptical of the traditional opposition to the bill that kept it from a Senate vote.
“There’s been an active campaign of misinformation from people who don’t want to see this law pass,” Jensen said. “[The bill’s opponents] said someone could dress up as a woman and go into a woman’s restroom and harass them.”
Such concerns are unfounded, he added, because “that would still be illegal. Harassment’s harassment.”
Housing remains an issue of particular concern for the transgender community, Jensen said. Generally, transgender individuals’ income levels are “abysmally low,” he said, and they often face discrimination when seeking low-income housing.
“Its not untypical for a transgender person to be homeless,” Jensen said. “If you’ve got people who need housing and low-income housing, you don’t want to create discriminatory practices so that they can’t get in and have a roof over their head.”