Thursday, March 17, 2011

Equality Maryland interested in monologue not dialogue

After three weekly transgender legislative workgroup meetings designed to bolster support for the flawed Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill (HB235) Equality Maryland has decided to walk away from dialogue with the transgender community and has canceled all further meetings until after the legislative session is over. Executive Director Morgan Meneses-Sheets explains this as a “scheduling conflict.” Truth and justice apparently conflicted with her organizations agenda.

Nearly a month after HB235's introduction and the extreme backlash from the Maryland transgender community, Equality Maryland called together a "Transgender Legislative Workgroup" session to be held at the City Cafe, a busy coffee shop in Mt. Vernon in Baltimore's Cultural District.

Such a venue could never support the number of individuals and that is was absolutely a poor choice for such a sensitive subject. The meeting location was changed the day of the event.

After only three weekly meetings it has been canceled until after the legislative session in Maryland ends on April 11, 2011. In other words, Equality Maryland does not wish to be part of any discussion which furthers the interests of the greater transgender community of Maryland nor does it wish to seek solutions to the greater problems with this bill.

The last three weeks have seen attendance of around two dozen. Of this attendance, a minimum of 8-10 were members of Equality Maryland’s Board, Staff or Volunteers. Of the remaining 14-16, real members of the community, support for public accommodations was 3-1.

What was Equality Maryland’s purpose for the meetings?

By the very nature of its hurriedly conceived workgroup, its nonexistence in the months prior to the bill's introduction and its sudden cancellation until after The House and Senate adjourned their 90 day session in Maryland, it is evident Equality Maryland did not like the voices or message coming from the group and in fact, that message had staying power and impact of others in attendance. By continuing these meetings, Equality Maryland realized the stranglehold of the community was eroding. Its purpose was to appear to be working with the community, something it absolutely failed to do in the months leading up to HB235's introduction and for 3 weeks after.

Some individuals attending the workgroups were notified, but certainly not all. Here is an email sent to one such attendee.


“Due to scheduling conflicts, the transgender issues working group meeting originally scheduled for tonight has been postponed.

Thank you for coming out to Baltimore these past few weeks, lending your time and your voices to the discussion.

We believe these meetings have been constructive. We are committed to continuing these conversations after the legislative session so we can best formulate a coordinated, long range educational and legislative agenda.

We look forward to continuing this important dialogue. The next meeting will be scheduled for Wednesday, April 13th at 7:30 PM in the Equality Maryland offices. At that time we hope to have a system in place that will allow folks to join via a conference call. We'll keep you posted as the date draws closer.

We are of course aware that some members of the group disagree with the strategy behind HB 235. For those who are interested in supporting this legislation, please consider getting in contact with our deputy field director, Aimee Martin at aimee@ equalitymaryland.org. We're committed to winning these vital protections for the transgender community now, and hope you'll join us.

We look forward to seeing you on April 13th.

Sincerely,

Morgan Meneses-Sheets
Executive Director”

If you are of the majority which believes this bill is fatally flawed, this is no surprise to you. If you are still clinging to the idea that incremental protections is a pathway to full equality we suggest you seek the examples of where it has been attempted. There has not been success with this approach. The vast majority of states with transgender protections are fully inclusive. In Maryland, the City of Baltimore and Montgomery County offer full protections. Glendora Hughes, General Counsel for the Maryland Commission on Human Relations stated:

“Yes, Baltimore City and Montgomery County covers gender identity. So now we have an inequity in the State of Maryland. Based on your geography, where you live will determine whether you have protection against being discriminated against.”

We agree with Glendora Hughes that there is an inequity in the State and the only way to eliminate the inequity is to provide the exact protections as currently offered to 25% of our citizens by amending HB235. Anything less is an inequity itself and as we all know, two wrongs don't make a right.

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