Successes and Failures

I’ve noticed recently the tendency to start reviewing this year’s legislative and governmental progress…as if this were the end of the year.  Admittedly it is in many cases the end of the legislative session, but my calendar still has a good six months to go.

Autumn Sandeen has a commentary in the San Diego LGBT Weekly, which highlights the fact that we have equality in three more states (HI, NV, and CT) and fought off a challenge to equality in Maine and that antidiscrimination protections were added administratively for federal employees.  And soon we should see that trans clients of our government (at least at HHS and the VA) have equal rights to the services we seek.

[For those who don’t know, transpeople will not gain anything from the repeal of DADT since we are excluded from service for other…administrative, not legislative…reasons.]

All that is good, but I was taught as a child that we learn more from our failures than from our successes.  So what of our failures this year?

Note:  MIT research seems to dispute what I learned as a child with regard to monkeys, but Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne agrees in regards to robots.

We did have…or have had…failures this year as well as successes.  Maryland is the first place that comes to mind.  The Baltimore City Paper has an analysis by Andrea Appleton of the state of the community in Maryland.  The Chrissy Polis beating in a Baltimore McDonald’s went viral one week after the transgender protection failed in the Maryland legislature.  As a result, the Maryland Governor now has pledged to work for “even greater protections for transgender people” in the next legislative session, but in order for that to happen, perhaps we need to review where we stand.  The trans community is not united on this.

HB 235, the bill from the past session, would have provided job, housing, and credit protections for transfolk, but not protections in public accommodations.  The latter is what Chrissy Polis needed.  The fact that public accommodations was not included divided the trans community.  Some of us lobbied for it and some of us lobbied against it as being inadequate.  The part left out, it was said, disproportionately affected the exact people who had no voice in the process:  poor people and people of color.

At the end, Equality Marryland, an LGBT organization which had been the chief lobbyist had its executive director either resign or be fired (depending on who is asked), was in financial crisis, fired most of its staff, and had the board president resign.

Conflict over HB 235 goes back years before it existed.  It actually goes back a decade.

Some trans activists are still smarting from a bill that passed a decade ago, banning discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation. Equality Maryland, then known as Free State Justice, shepherded the bill to passage, and it pointedly did not include the transgender community.

On the removal of the transcommunity from legislation on that time?

It was a calculated decision and one that I frankly regret.  I think it was the wrong decision.

–Del. Maggie MacIntosh (D-Baltimore City), openly lesbian delegate at the time of passage of protections for sexual orientation

So there was already friction, the dropping of public accommodations from HB 235 was what got it called an exercise in “separate but equal”.  Public accommodations refer to any private establishments which serve the public, like restaurants, hotels, retail stores…and yes, restrooms.

Though HB 235 included no mention of bathrooms, the opposition was quick to bring them up. A group called Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government distributed fliers to legislators in both houses as part of their “Not In My Shower” campaign, which warns against the dangers of cross-dressing men entering women’s restrooms and locker rooms. A March posting on the blog Right Coast Conservative read: “[HB 235] means that homosexual activists and pedophiles (whose intentions are to ‘PREY ON CHILDREN’ . . . will be able to disguise themselves in women’s clothes, go into any public restroom, and have access to OUR CHILDREN!! [sic].

Supporters of the bill caved, deeming it politically advisable to exclude public accommodations in order to pass “something rather than nothing”, according to the bill’s sponsor, Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D- Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties).  After all, a bill addressing public accommodations could always be introduced at some future time.

I’ve been doing this for a long time and understand you can’t do this piecemeal.  When you’re talking about civil and human rights, you either have rights or you don’t.

–lawyer and trans activist Alyson Meiselman

The places where transmen and transwomen are most often discriminated against are in public accommodations. A bill that leaves out public accommodations leaves transfolk, literally, without a pot to piss in.

–Dana LaRocca, columnist for Baltimore OUTloud

In multitudes transpeople scoffed at the idea that public accommodations would have any chance at passing at a later date.

According to Peña-Melnyk, the bill would only have protected those who express themselves in one gender consistently, not cross-dressers or drag queens. But even after hearing testimony from members of the trans community and their allies, legislators seemed confused. Cpl. Maxwell Klinger, the fictional cross-dressing goofball from the 1970s television series M*A*S*H, seemed the only point of reference several delegates had. (In the show, Klinger dresses like a woman in an attempt to get a psychiatric discharge.) “Do you really want to have a situation where Klinger will be put in charge of a classroom of kindergartners?” one delegate asked.

At the same time as the trans protection bill was being debated, marriage equality was on the table.  That didn’t work so well…and never has to my knowledge.

Far, far more people care about marriage equality than they care about trans rights. That’s the reality in this country.  There might be moments in time when that changes, but for the most part, the trans community is a kid sister to the gay community.

–Dana Beyer, Executive Director, Gender Rights Maryland

I don’t hear of people dying because they don’t get gay marriage.  The priorities [of the LGBT organizations working on HB 235] to me were a little screwed up.

–Jenna Fischetti, TransMaryland

So Equality Maryland poured its efforts into SB 116, the Civil Marriage Protection Act.  HB 235 became an unwanted stepchild.  Some trans activists considered it a bone being thrown to us…a shiny object to distract us.  Equality Maryland expended little money or effort in our behalf.

Still, HB 235 did pass the House, 86-52 and was sent to the Senate in a timely manner.  But then it was shunted to the Rules Committee, which is usually a bad sign.  Advocates managed to get it out of there and moved to the Judiciary Proceedings Committee, where it was passed favorably with a minor amendment.  On the last day of the session, it was recommitted to committee, killing it for the year.

So what happened?  Well, after the Senate passed marriage equality, it failed in the House.  The animosity of senators to this outcome became directed at HB 235.  Some people blame Senate President Mike Miller (D-Calvert and Prince George’s counties), who proclaimed on Maryland Public Television:

I personally believe [HB 235 is] anti-family, so I’m going to vote against it.

Differences between factions of the trans community are real and many.  Trying to identify all the players is an exercise in dissection I do not wish to pursue.  But I found the following voices resonated with me.

Sandy Rawls, founder of Trans-United, a social service organization that serves primarily African-American, low-income transgender individuals in the Baltimore area, argues that leaving out public accommodations was akin to ignoring the most marginalized segment of the community. “Individuals who have a sophisticated income usually can go just about anywhere they want to go for services,” she says. “People who are low-income have to go wherever they have to go, wherever is available to them in their community.

Susan Stryker, new director of the Institute for LGBT Studies, concurs that class has everything to do with the level of discrimination a trans individual may face. She uses herself as an example: “It’s not like I’m wandering into the McDonald’s at midnight because I need some place to go pee,” she says. “I don’t need that public accommodations thing in quite the same way.”

I think that there are people who say, ‘We’ll take what we can get now and we’ll keep pushing. Half a loaf is better than none.’  But then it’s a rule of thumb that the people who are more willing to do that are the people who don’t need that other half of the loaf.


We’ve been hearing for years that the voices of transgendered people have been articulated by the gay and lesbian community and their allies. I think this provides an opportunity for people to speak for themselves.

Del. Mary Washington

Perhaps it will.  The question will be whether people will be willing to listen.

We should be aware that this is not an isolated incident.  Massachusetts is currently considering our fate.  The next step is a lobby day set for June 23.

And in New York, the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act (GENDA) passed the Assembly on June 14, 89-55.   This is the 4th consecutive year it has passed the assembly.  As in Maryland, all the attention is on marriage equality,  The trans community is not expecting a miracle.

And the question remains: Can a standalone transgender civil rights bill pass in New York?  And if so, how long can it take?  It took 9 years to first pass in the Assembly and now more progressive elected officials are needed to move forward.  The enemies of trans rights in New York and elsewhere have created the concept of a Bathroom Bill, as if there is a history of criminals using trans rights for easy access to attack women and children in private spaces, when in fact, there is no record of any attacks.

Melissa Sklarz, New York Trans Rights Organization


    • Robyn on June 18, 2011 at 00:01

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