Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Call to Action

I'm constantly reminded, that "Faith without works is dead"

I can believe in something so passionately, yet if I sit idle, its for naught.

The State of Maryland is posed to make national headlines in its General Assembly sessions on two very important fronts for Equality. One in the realm of Same Sex Marriage and the other in the area of Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination. However, not for the same reason in respect to both. Same Sex Marriage for its advancements, and Gender Identity Anti Discrimination for its lack of advancements.

Both stand to set the tone moving forward for each individual cause, with respect to other states and on the national level. So it no wonder so much outside attention is being drawn.

I would like to focus on the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act introduced in Maryland as House Bill 235. I do not expect to change the opinions of those so determined. Yet I do wish to promote clarity and a simple alternative, satisfying the needs of ALL transgender Marylanders and those members of the transgender community throughout our nation.

House Bill 235's introduction and language came as a shock to the majority of the transgender community because its lack of protection in respect to not only previous bills, or currently enacted laws in both Montgomery County and Baltimore City, but because of its lack of consideration to the reaction from those it sought to provide relieve to. The last 4 years, Maryland has introduced a bill offering protections to individuals based on Gender Identity, with most recently HB 1022 in 2010. At no time were members of the community informed of either via email update to those subscribed to EQMD, nor through EQMD's Yahoo based listserv, TransEquality Maryland . In fact HB235 is in direct conflict to published objectives for 2011 on their website (please note this is subject to the page being taken down)

EQMD is employing its available resources in the most beneficial way it sees fit. I do not blame them for that, as resources in this economy are precious, both in terms of money and manpower. however, they employ Field Organizers, maintain mailing lists, promote community events, are active on social networking sites and are the occasional recipient of charity fundraisers a modest and busy organization indeed. The ability to promote their message though is not restricted.

The concern comes from a lack of sensitivity to the transgender community not only in Maryland, but nationally when it comes to the community's feelings of being sold out. The transgender community has experienced its share of disappointment and rejection, heartache and betrayals over the years from EQMD (when it went by Free State Justice) and the Human Rights Campaign, HRC. In 2001 it was told that by supporting sexual orientation only in that year's anti-discrimination bill, it would be revisited to add gender identity in the near future.

Fast forward ten years. Rhode Island (2001), California(2003), the District of Columbia(2005), Hawaii(2006), New Jersey(2006), and Vermont(2007) all ADDED Gender Identity to laws already including sexual orientation protections. New Mexico (2003), Illinois (2005), Maine (2005), Washington (2006), Colorado (2007), Iowa (2007), Oregon (2007) all added Sexual Orientation AND Gender Identity protections. In Maryland we wait. In fact, Hawaii was the only state to added full protections the subsequent year (2005-2006) but the Polynesian culture embraces Māhū, a traditional third gender person and as such has a respect for such transgender citizens. Additionally California rewrote the definition of sex with their passing of FEHA, Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Rather than expressly prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals, the Legislature amended FEHA to expand the definition of “sex,” which is, of course, already listed as a protected category. As amended, FEHA now states that sex is defined to include “a person’s gender.” FEHA then incorporates a somewhat unusual definition of “gender” that appears in the California Penal Code. Under this definition, gender is defined as (1) an employee’s actual sex, (2) an employer’s perception of an employee’s sex and (3) an employee’s “identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the [employee’s] sex at birth.” (The FEHA definition includes applicants in addition to employees.) Thus, in California it is now illegal to discriminate against an employee or applicant who has undergone a sex change operation or who dresses or behaves in a manner inconsistent with his or her “sex at birth.”

But in Maryland we wait.

The solution presented is the notion that incremental change is the answer. We have been told since the bill was introduced, that all civil rights have been earned incrementally ( sound familiar HRC?) That Maryland's transgender community must accept incremental progress as it is the path all others have taken. Nonsense. Speaking solely for actions in Maryland concerning incremental rights, let us ask this question.

"What other protected class of citizens in Maryland have had to earn rights incrementally?"

That is, they were granted protections for say employment, then housing, then credit and then public accommodations. Or even a package deal of EHC, and get "revisited" for public accommodations. To steal a line from Baltimore's own Ben Stein in the now classic "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" Anyone?, Anyone? Anyone?

Sexual orientation was added in 2001. Free State Justice, currently incarnated today as, Anyone? Anyone? Equality Maryland, told the transgender community it would be covered by existing statutes and laws as a justification to remove the language of gender identity. Were these protections granted those based on sexual orientation for Employment, Housing and Credit? Anyone? Anyone? No, they were NOT incremental, they were FULL protections.

In fact, EQMD is now citing a 2009 interview former Governor Parris Glendening gave in which he felt removing gender identity in 2001 was a mistake and they, EQMD have been fighting since to overcome this. EQMD, is publicly acknowledging that its then policy of "incrementalism" was a mistake and are now fighting it with ANYONE? ANYONE?

More incrementalism.

This would be sad if it were not true.

The danger to this approach, both locally AND nationally is, its promotes a separate but equal mentality proven to be as discriminatory as no protections. It departs from the tried and true path of adding protected classes to the FULL suite of anti-discrimination protection currently enjoyed in respect to race, sex, creed, color, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, age, or disability. It makes the argument that transgender individuals are NOT deserving of FULL protections. It places the transgender community at risk to attempt to fight for public accommodations at a later point with the assistance of ? Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, you've got it... We've seen their track record. No thank you.

So what's the solution?

The solution is to contact your legislator and express your complete and unwavering support for ONLY FULL gender identity protections and nothing less. There is a distinct possibility that HB235 will pass. And we will have nothing but an empty shell where promises for continued action once flourished. There is the possibility that the bill will be defeated or will not clear the committee to even come for a vote and there is the possibility that HB235, will be redrafted in the image of last year's HB1022.

Half a loaf of moldy bread is certainly not better than a full loaf, even if that loaf takes longer to bake.

1 comment:

  1. I think you might find this ENDABlog post relevant - particularly some of the comments.