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Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Mixed Bag for Trans Laws in Maryland

Officials in Howard and Montgomery counties open to ordinance like Baltimore's

[BALTIMORE, MD] - Human rights administrators in Howard and Montgomery counties said they would be willing to consider legislation like the one approved last week in Baltimore that prohibits discrimination in various venues based on gender identity or expression.

Their counterparts in Prince George's and Baltimore counties were not as forthright in their willingness to discuss enacting laws to protect transgender residents, however.

"I'd be open with any groups about taking a look at our ordinance and seeing if it covers gender identity or expression," said Rufus F. Clanzy, administrator for the Howard County Office of Human Rights in Columbia.

Clanzy said that most Maryland counties do not have a comprehensive anti-discrimination law like Howard County's, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or personal appearance. The law took effect in 1975.

"We generally have less acts of discrimination because we are a smaller jurisdiction and are fairly diverse," Clanzy said. "But because we have it on the books, local employers are aware of the law and we don't get as many violations. Our complaints related to sexual orientation have been few. Our complaints related to gender and personal appearance have been few."

Organizers at Free State Justice, Maryland's gay civil rights group, said in August that they plan to approach various jurisdictions statewide about enacting laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

Baltimore was the first city they focused their efforts on and the 19- member City Council unanimously approved a measure Nov. 25 that bans discrimination based on gender identity or expression in employment, public accommodations, education, health and welfare agencies, and housing.

Democratic Mayor Martin O'Malley, who requested that the Council consider the measure, is expected to sign it.

Statewide law sought

Transgender rights advocates in Maryland ultimately want state lawmakers to approve an anti-discrimination measure based on gender identity and expression that protects residents statewide. It will be easier to accomplish this, they said, if various cities and counties in Maryland enact such laws first.

Clanzy, the administrator for the Howard County office of Human Rights, agreed.

"In most cases like this, the local jurisdictions have sort of led the state," he said. "Local politics are a little more personal and there's a tendency for individuals and groups to have a greater impact."

It was easier for state lawmakers in Maryland to approve the gay civil rights law there, Clanzy said, because a few of the state's 24 jurisdictions already had enacted similar laws.

"We argued that the rest of Maryland was not covered, and that what's good for our counties is good for Maryland and good for businesses," Clanzy said.

Once state lawmakers were convinced that enacting such laws at local levels had no adverse effects, he said, it became easier for them to support the statewide gay civil rights proposal.

Maryland's Anti-Discrimination Act of 2001, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations, does not include protection for transgender residents.

"We got very much shut out of the anti-discrimination legislation," said Tammy Lippert, a transgender activist and a Free State Justice board member. "Governor [Parris] Glendening didn't think [the gay civil rights law] would pass with that included."

Lippert, who is co-chair of a Free State Justice board committee known as MATTER (Marylanders Advocating Toward Transgender Equal Rights), said an attempt several years ago to have protection for transgender residents included in the gay civil rights legislation also failed.

Transgender activists and a broader coalition are driving this latest effort, Lippert said.

Jean-Michel Brevelle, a transgender organizer who works with Free State Justice, said activists interested in getting anti- discrimination policies approved to protect residents based on gender identity or expression most likely would approach Montgomery, Howard and Prince George's counties after the Baltimore bill becomes law. These three counties already have gay civil rights laws in place and have shown a willingness to embrace minority populations, he said.

"We do not have gender identity language in the county law currently," said Michael Dennis, compliance director for Montgomery County's Office of Human Rights. "We take complaints on this issue, and we can do that without 'gender identity' attached to the bill."

Nevertheless, Dennis said providing protection against discrimination based on gender identity or expression is "certainly a possibility."

"If anyone from the transgender community wanted to come before the commission and make a case for amending the law, we would see where it goes," he said.

Dennis also said the 15-member Montgomery County Commission on Human Rights could propose the change to the Montgomery County Council, which creates laws. The county has had a gay civil rights law in effect that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation since 1984.

Another option, Dennis said, would be for transgender rights advocates to approach individual council members with their proposal. The council has eight Democrats and one Republican, Howard Dennis.

Prince George's County officials did not return a call for comment.

Courtney Murphy, a Free State Justice board member and the other co- chair of MATTER, the gay civil rights group's transgender rights committee, said Baltimore County officials also should be approached about creating a law protecting transgender residents against discrimination.

Alonza Williams, a spokesperson for Baltimore County, said "a need for a law to protect people based on transgender or other characteristics hasn't become an issue in the county at this time."

He also said Baltimore County's anti-discrimination law does not include protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Celestine Morgan, executive director of Baltimore County's Human Relations Commission, did not return a call for comment.

Two states, Minnesota and Rhode Island, and more than 50 U.S. jurisdictions have laws that bar discrimination based on gender identity or expression, according to Free State Justice.

Activists in Maryland said they turned to their counterparts in Pennsylvania for tips about advancing transgender rights.

Mara Keisling, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Gender Rights Coalition, said of the 15 transgender rights ordinances approved nationwide this year, four were in Pennsylvania. Seven jurisdictions in Pennsylvania now have transgender rights ordinances: Erie County and the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, York and New Hope.

A statewide hate crimes law now sitting on the governor's desk also includes gender identity as a protected category.

"We all work together here, and we all work really hard," said Keisling, who is slated to become the executive director of a new organization in Washington, D.C., known as the National Center for Transgender Equality.

"It's the oldest formula in the books," she said, "and it really works."


Free State Justice
MATTER: Marylanders Advocating Toward Transgender Equal Rights
P.O. Box 922
Glen Burnie, Md. 21060-0922


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