Saturday, June 11, 2011

For Weddings, Yet a Funeral

On January 28th, 2011, if you were told that the Trans community would be more organized than the LGB community moving forward in the next legislative session, that Marriage and the Gender Identity anti-discrimination bills would both come razor close to passage yet fail and the Equality Maryland (EQMD) would for all intents and purposes, cease to exist, you'd laugh until you dropped.

I don't hear any laughter today.

On January 28th, 2011, Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk introduce in the Maryland House of Delegates House Bill 235, titled Human Relations - Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – Antidiscrimination. Even the title was ominous. It spoke of a unity and support, which at least from the strategy and board’s positions, did not exist.  Much has been written and rehashed over the last session but the stark fact remains. Equality Maryland will close its doors come June 28th unless a large infusion of cash materializes.

In April, beleaguered Executive Director Morgan Menesse Sheets was fired and replaced with Interim Director Lynne Bowman. Ms Bowman’s immediate task was to circle the wagons, and assess the damage. EQMD launched a series of Listening Tours.  An examination of the organizations financial house and its database of contributors and supporters revealed as much serious damage to them as there was to their reputation. Finger pointing ensued between the Board and the ousted Ms Menesse Sheets.  In the end, its non grant funded field organizers were laid off and later given the opportunity to be rehired, but only through the end of June at which time only the Office Manager would remain on staff.

The little discussed fact that The Human Rights Campaign’s( HRC) Field Organizer Sultan Shakir had set up shop inside of EQMD’s headquarters as early as 4th quarter 2010 with the intent of “running the marriage campaign”. His title was in fact, Campaign Manager. Mr Shakir is no stranger to the Maryland LGBT landscape, having served as former Vice President of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB). HRC and other national organizations like Freedom to Marry (FtM) and The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) also provided resources for the marriage cause.

While they planned weddings, the transgender community planned even one more funeral. Tyra Trent was found without identification and strangled in the basement of an abandoned Baltimore house. An unacceptable statistic is that transgender women accounted for 11% of hate crimes reported and 50% of all murder cases in 2009 as compiled by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

From those EQMD staffers on the street and in the halls of Annapolis there was a desire for gender identity rights first, and marriage second. The board felt otherwise and enlisted the “advocacy coalition” from outside the state to push this. It was this advocacy coalition’s decision to push to recommit the marriage bill when the vote count looked lost. It was their decision to pack up shop on March 12th, the day after the marriage bill died. But wait; there was still the gender identity bill. No matter. They were not there for that battle. Have they ever been?

The aftermath is an EQMD with substantial financial difficulties and a future which is quite unclear. In a world where
just being a 501(c)3 or (c)4 makes you relevant, they sure are non relevant.

In their zest for Marriage, there is yet one more funeral…

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Congratulations Nevada

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval has approved Senate Bills 331 and 368 to ban transgender discrimination in public accommodations and housing. Sandoval earlier signed a bill to prohibit discrimination in employment gender identity.

Legislatively, one more state gets it. They understand the need for critical human rights in regard to protecting the members of their transgender community. Too often legislators and even the state's own LGB organizations do not fully understand the immediate need for such protection.  Maryland had its difficulties last legislative session namely due to the lack of transparency and a poorly conceived strategy for success. As a result, its main equal rights organization, Equality Maryland paid a heavy price. Its reputation is severely damaged, half of its staff is no longer affiliated with the group and its Board Chair has resigned in disgrace.

Fortunately, its Transgender Working Group was survived, due to the efforts of Transgender Field Organizer Owen Smith and fellow Field Organizer Damon Hardline.  While their future is uncertain, what is certain is the group continues because it is not a program of EQMD, nor is it dependent on EQMD.  Smith's commitment to the group extends beyond his uncertain employment with the troubled LGB organization.

So if empowering yourself and others to help better the lives of transgender Marylanders is something which you feel is worthy of your time and effort, let us all come together. There is a seat for you and contrary to some part-time bloggers, we do not have to be an incorporated non profit to change the world, at least our state....

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Does a group need to an IRS recognized organization to be relevant?

Recently a part-time blogger at a well known LBG blog suggested that a group must be a 501(c)3 or (c)4 in order to exist.

There are numerous groups which are quite relevant in the political universe which are not 501c3 or c4s. The notion that they must be regulated by the Internal Revenue Service is laughable. Ask the DC TransCoalition if they wish to be a c3 or c4? I'm positive their response will be a resounding "Hell No!"

Please take note at the time of Ms Ramseyer's statement and in fact her original post, the organization she was shilling for did not even exist in the eyes of the State of Maryland and was not and is still not an approved "501c3 nor c4" It wasn't even registered with the State of Maryland until May 24, 2011.

Let's review the "political players" in Maryland last legislative session.

Equality Maryland - Pro HB235
Trans Maryland and TransUnited- Pro amending HB235/comprehensive bill
(please note members of The Maryland Transgender Alliance lobbied with TransMaryland and TransUnited against passing a bill without public accommodations.

Status today?

Eqaulity Maryland lost most of its staff including Executive Director Morgan Menese-Sheets and its Board Chair has resigned in disgrace. They are a501c3 and have a Foundation which is a c4. They are in disarray.

TransMaryland and TransUnited welcomed the formation of MTA and encourage others to become involved in the political process. We are still " in business".

What Ms Ramseyer is truly suggesting is, unless you believe in her 'political ideology" you don't exist.

Grassroots exist for a reason. What happened to Equality Maryland should be a cautionary tale to those who wish to run roughshod over others.

We own our Voices.