After all of the insider politics and hurt feelings, Maryland’s House Bill 235 was sent back to committee yesterday, an ignoble death at the end of their legislative session. Trouble had begun with the public accommodations clause of the bill was removed, leaving employment, education, and housing protections, but not covering transgender people in some of the most vulnerable situations they may face. Activists put pressure on Equality Maryland, one of the main organizations lobbying for the bill, and the sponsoring Delegate, Ms. Pena-Melnyk, and surprisingly, the activists were quickly dismissed as adversaries, and when they posted comments on Equality Maryland’s Web site and Facebook page, their comments were deleted, their accounts banned from future posting.
This development, unsurprisingly, did not go over well. Blogs all over the Maryland/DC area lit up with furious transfolks, who hadn’t been consulted on the shift in bill language, and who were agog that they’d been silenced in criticizing the shift itself. Was this or wasn’t it a bill about gender identity or expression?
After the initial shock they began lobbying toward a new end—the demise of HB 235. This came on the heels of the close defeat of the same-sex marriage bill, Equality Maryland’s other political priority, and a long-standing fight in the state that seems to perennially find a way to fail. Even Susan Lucci had her day, after all.
All of the phone calls, email messages, and protests—one of which was staged in DC during a national transgender lobby day, and which broadened the struggle to a country-wide set of activists—began to have an effect. Delegates talked to reporters about feeling hesitant to get in the middle of such infighting. The bill looked like it would tank.
A late rally when the bill went to the floor for a final vote resulted in a wave of outcry, and a bit of media coverage about the limitations of not having public accommodations attached. The Washington Times felt the need to come out with the most transphobic slew of shit drivel I have read this century. I had worries too that the chamber would never come back around to support a PA-only bill or amendment in future sessions. Several people wondered openly if civil rights by increments weren’t just a way of stalling real progress. And then the floor fell away from under HB 235 as it went to committee to fade away at the end of the session on April 11.
Some people said it was time to celebrate, certainly among the trans activists who felt locked out of the bill-making process, this was some kind of a victory for having their voices heard.
But for me, there’s nothing to celebrate. This episode is sad testimony to the stovepiping of civil rights issues in the LGB/t community, the failure of political insiders to make a solid case for transgender and gender variant people’s needs, and the hurtful waste of scarce resources, current and future. Equality Maryland may expect to have some trouble now raising new funds from reliable foundations, and several of Maryland’s Delegates will be more wary next year, should either trans protections or same-sex marriage come past their desks again.
Someday, comprehensive protections and civil rights for people in the queer community will be the law of the land. But not today, and not in the Old Line State.