Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Leader Empowers, Not Disenfranchises

"A leader sees greatness in other people. He nor she can be much of a leader if all she sees is herself."  -Dr Maya Angelou

     In my time as an active member in a community of my peers, I have always felt the strong need to elevate and empower others, to create equal and level playing fields and honor the universal dignity we all share. To that extent I have volunteered as facilitator of peer support groups, building community and in the process building individual strength in our community.  These efforts saw a 600% explosion in attendance at those meetings over the years of 2006-2011. Since 2011 I have dedicated my time to being part of the coalition that came together to ensure Maryland was the next state to expand legal protections to the trans community. This spring the Fairness for All Marylanders Act was signed into law by Governor O’Malley. I know, I was there. I am also honored to have received the pen he used to ink that bill. I cherish that as a reminder of a struggle so many fellow Marylanders have endured for decades to see this day. I hold that as a reminder of the tremendous sacrifice offered by many of our community members to steadfastly assert their authenticity, even to the point of grave peril to their life, allowing others the freedom and ease of doing the same. Our heroes, our champions in and out of the community come not from access or wealth, or personal assertion of such statuses, but from the tireless dedication to educate themselves on the issues, elevating and empowering voices of impacted communities and taking strong action on such. We, the TransMaryland community have such a leader, a champion of interests and well-being, in Senator Rich Madaleno.

     Senator Madaleno will be the first to admit he continues to seek growth in his understanding and advocacy of and for the transgender community. He respects and values the dignity and rights of our fellows. Since he was elected to the Senate in 2006, he has been introducing legislation to provide protections for the trans community. In 2011, he was asked not to introduce legislation in the Senate in favor of a House only approach. This legislation was met to criticism by the transgender community for excluding public accommodations. It was at this time I first met the senator. On the streets of Annapolis, during a break, he was walking to get lunch. Hurrying over to him, I asked if he could speak with me and other advocates about amending the bill when it reached the senate. He invited us to walk with him and listened to our concerns. You see, just days before, he released a statement, affirming his commitment to a fully comprehensive bill, and called on the amending of that bill to include public accommodations. No other legislator offered such a commitment. Even his current opponent in his District 18 senate run, Dana Beyer, refused to call for the bill’s amendment to include protections in places of public accommodations. 
     Senator Madaleno met with the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality, the statewide transgender led coalition of over 50 organizations, who, for the last two legislative sessions, have been the sole party responsible for managing the Fairness for All Marylanders Act. At the end of the 2013 legislative session he sat as transgender steering committee members of MCTE expressed their concerns that their legislative game plan was being tampered with by outside interests, interests which demonstrated their inability to work with others. Those interests were Dana Beyer and Gender Rights Maryland.

     Senator Madaleno took those concerns and reinvigorated his commitment to this bill, and as a result, we had 25 cosponsors in the senate where only 24 YEA votes are needed for floor passage. There is no one currently in the senate, nor running for senate that has the experience, compassion, and willingness to empower and elevate communities for success, like my friend, Rich Madaleno.

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