Earlier this year the Maryland Legislature debated but ultimately rejected the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act (HB 235), a non-comprehensive bill that would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment and credit on the basis of gender identity or expression.
Though the bill did not become law, progress for Maryland’s trans community was realized in several ways. Not only did the House pass HB 235 by a wide margin — a state first for gender identity legislation — but for the first time in recent years significant numbers of Maryland’s trans community stepped forward to engage in the debate and participate in the political process.
Just a week after the 2011 legislative session ended Chrissy Lee Polis, a trans woman, was brutally assaulted in a McDonalds in Rosedale, Maryland. That tragic event focused public attention on the need for anti-discrimination legislation in Maryland in a way the debate over HB 235 had not been able to do.
With such positive momentum in both the legislature and the trans community and greater public recognition of the severity of the discrimination that trans people face, the time was now to set the stage for a legislative victory during the 2012 legislative session, which begins in January. Equality Maryland, however, seemed ill equipped to keep the ball rolling due to a recent turnover in staff and board members. Equality Maryland is the statewide LGBT advocacy organization which championed HB 235.
Enter Gender Rights Maryland, a new, independent, all-volunteer trans-lead organization formed to step into the gap, take advantage of the momentum and take the lead on the legislative fight for trans rights.
The purpose of Gender Rights Maryland is to promote civil rights, education, tolerance, equality and acceptance on the basis of sex and gender identity/expression in the State of Maryland. Gender Rights Maryland’s initial legislative goal is to see the passage of a comprehensive gender identity anti-discrimination bill by the end of the 2012 legislative session. Gender Rights Maryland is an independent 501(c)4 and 501(c)3 foundation. Although we believe in building a broad coalition of like minded organizations we are not affiliated with any other rights organization.
Founding board members include Sharon Brackett, Dana Beyer M.D., Donna Cartwright, Caroline Temmermand and Alex Hickcox.
The organization had planned to formally launch in early June, unveiling at that time a website, goals and plan of action and announcing the diverse membership of its boards. Plans changed slightly on May 17 however when Governor Martin O’Malley issued this powerful call to action in response to the announcement that Chrissy Lee Polis’s assailants would be brought up on hate crimes charges. (emphasis added)
I want to commend Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger for using every available means to prosecute the heinous beating of Chrissy Lee Polis last month.
Even with Maryland’s ‘hate crimes’ law, it is clear that more must be done to protect the rights and dignity of transgendered people. In the struggle for justice and equality for all, I’m committed to working with the Maryland General Assembly during the next legislative session to increase awareness and provide even greater protections for transgendered people.
As some have noted, out of this awful beating has come a moment to foster a deeper understanding and respect for the dignity of all persons. We should not allow the moment to pass without greater action.
A powerful statement like this on the need for trans rights legislation is unprecedented coming from a Maryland governor, and called for an immediate response from the nascent organization. Gender Rights Maryland made a soft debut the next day in order to issue this response:
GENDER RIGHTS MARYLAND COMMENDS GOVERNOR O’MALLEY’S STATEMENT SUPPORTING GENDER IDENTITY ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LEGISLATION
LAUREL, MD (May 18, 2011) – Gender Rights Maryland commends Governor O’Malley’s statement yesterday regarding prosecution of the perpetrators of the beating of Chrissy Lee Polis in April, and we concur with him on the importance of fostering a culture of understanding and respect for the dignity of all persons. We welcome the actions of Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, and place our trust in the legal process in pursing justice for Ms. Polis.
We also call upon the Governor to appoint a Commission to study gender identity discrimination in Maryland this year. The debate over the gender identity anti-discrimination bill during the 2011 session of the legislature in Annapolis, followed by this horrific assault, highlight the need for comprehensive legislative remedies, and we believe a commission would be a useful first step in moving our state closer to the goal of being a place where we are all able to lead lives of full human dignity and receive equal justice under law. We welcome the Governor’s actions and pledge to work with him to achieve these ends.
Gender Rights Maryland is a new civil rights organization focused on gender identity and expression in the State of Maryland. The organization will consist of a 501(c)4 political arm and 501(c)3 foundation. The organization was founded by members of the Maryland transgender community who were active this year in supporting gender identity legislation in Annapolis as well as in previous years. The organization will be formally launched in the coming weeks.
Gender Rights Maryland still plans their formal debut in early June.