Originally, I was going to leave this alone. Enough other intelligent people were covering the recent events in Maryland’s push toward same-sex marriage and transgender civil rights that I didn’t think I’d be adding anything new to the conversation. I pulled back and used a broader lens to ask some questions about where we are as a queer community, thinking that this regional dispute was part of a larger debate and tension among the L, G, B, and T in le grande coalition.
And then this photo popped up on Equality Maryland’s Facebook fan page and a scant few hours later, it was gone, zapped into the nethersphere, along with whatever affronted comments had joined it temporarily. Fortunately I grabbed the photo before it had been cast out.
This is not just a photo, see. This is another stumble in a long line of mistakes that Equality Maryland’s staff and Executive Director have made in the HB 235 protections bill.
First, there seems to be an over-reliance on national organizations like HRC, the Gill Organization, and the Task Force, to set the agenda and strategize the push with legislators. Certainly there is room for national and local groups to work together, but people seem to be better served when the local groups—who presumably know their communities and legislative processes/personalities better—do most of the leading, with the national organizations throwing their weight and resources around as requested. Here it sounds like Equality Maryland let the 800-pound gorillas call the shots, which led to its green lighting of the decision to pull public accommodations from the protections bill.
Many trans activists called foul on this move, and I agree with their criticisms, for reasons I expressed earlier this week: One isn’t really behind transgender people’s rights if one won’t support all aspects of protections that have been put into place elsewhere. So in DC I could use the rest room that comports with my gender identity but in Maryland I could not? Having worked in the state of Maryland for nearly a dozen years, I find that distinction disturbing.
As some activists have pointed out, public accommodations means much more than rest rooms. I also agree here. But along the lines of “our values are expressed in how we treat the least of us,” we need to be willing to support the basest measures of protection. Bathrooms are tricky because people think “men in women’s dresses assaulting women in rest rooms.” Let me make something perfectly clear: There is no case in the entire United States of some man assaulting a woman in her rest room by wearing a dress and using the protections of that jurisdiction in his defense. It just does not happen. It hasn’t happened in DC or San Francisco, where these protections have been in place for years. And it hasn’t occurred anywhere else.
Letting public accommodations be struck from the bill means that powerful teeth were taken away, that enforcement would not occur in lots of different situations; there need be no accommodation if one is arrested, seeks shelter, needs to use a locker room at the gym, and on and on. It feels like Equality Maryland and the national partners didn’t really care about transgender folks, but wanted to look like they cared, or that they had genuine concern for trans civil protections but weren’t very well versed in what such big changes would really mean for individuals in the community.
Of course there was criticism, which has been well documented in places like TransGRiot, Pam’s House Blend, and Planet Transgender, so I won’t repeat it here. The next series of mistakes was in Equality Maryland’s removal of critical comments from their fan page on Facebook, their defense of these removals by demonizing trans women and men, and even the former ED of their organization, and then their rather clumsy attempts to mollify criticism by plastering up all kinds of “trans friendly” (my words, not theirs) images and status updates. But by this point, it was going to take more than a photo of Mara Keisling to quell the storm.
Let me also say here that in that networked queer community way, I remotely know the current ED of Equality Maryland, who is an ex of a friend of mine. I’m confident that I’d have these comments about Equality Maryland’s behavior even if I didn’t know the ED from Eve. I was taken aback when I saw the censorship happening last week. Organizations that focus on pushing the agenda for a population of people are accountable to those people, and if they don’t like it they should find another line of work. When running an advocacy organization, the support and input from the very people for whom one advocates is paramount. One ought not erase their voices, one needs to respond to them.
One certainly shouldn’t plaster up a random photo of a trans “ally” from whatever protest or other. Especially a man in a skirt. That is like handing the conservative’s prime dealbreaker image to them on a silver platter. That this photo was tossed out on the social network like a shining example of what Equality Maryland is all about is a big part of the problem itself. As an organization, it does not understand the needs of trans people. And as a bill as it currently reads, HB 235 should not go to the floor, because it does not minimally serve the people it purports to protect.
Finally, I must join in the chorus of people requesting that the ED of Equality Maryland step down. It’s time to bring in a professional who will work to protect the most vulnerable segments of Maryland’s queer communities.