This story was corrected at 5:55 p.m. on Feb. 6, 2014. An explanation follows the story.
Prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity is considered the last major piece of the legislative puzzle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Marylanders, but a split state Senate committee threatens to stymie the effort.
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. has proposed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity when it comes to housing, employment, credit and public accommodations. He proposed the act last year, but it died in committee by one vote.
Once again, the 11 members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee are about evenly divided as to whether the legislation should advance to the Senate floor for debate, said committee chairman Brian E. Frosh, a supporter of the bill.
“It’s a 6-5 vote in my committee,” said Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase. “I’m not sure if that is in favor or against. It depends on which way it turns, whose vote is picked up or lost.”
It is too soon, he said, to talk about how the committee might try to amend the bill.
With 25 co-sponsors in the Senate, the bill is likely to pass if it makes it to the floor. Montgomery County’s entire Senate delegation has co-sponsored the bill.
Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, a civil rights organization lobbying in support of the bill, said there are three swing votes on the committee and any one of them could make or break the effort. Beyer has announced she is challenging Madaleno for his Senate seat.
Sens. Norman R. Stone (D-Dist. 6) of Dundalk, C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington and James Brochin (D-Dist 42) of Towson could vote either way on the legislation, Beyer said.
All three opposed Madaleno’s legislation last year.
Once again, a sticking point for opponents is prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations, such as restrooms. Gender identity is defined in the law as a gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior of an individual regardless of their assigned sex at birth.
Proponents of the bill say transgender Marylanders deserve inclusion and the same protections under the law that others enjoy. Opponents fear doing so would jeopardize the safety of women and children in public restrooms by allowing a loophole for unscrupulous predators to claim gender identity, enter a restroom and commit sexual crimes.
Transwomen often are the targets of these fears about restrooms, Beyer said, adding that such fears are “silly” and steeped in ignorance.
“Transwomen are amongst the most modest of women; they do not go out of their way to be obvious or in anyone’s face,” she said. “Everyone uses the bathroom and all transpeople are using the appropriate bathroom every day without any problem.”
Sen. Jamie B. Raskin said similar protections for transgender citizens exist in 17 states as well as in Baltimore County, Baltimore city, Howard County and Montgomery County in Maryland.
“And there have been no problems with security in bathrooms,” said Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, a member of the committee. “So we want to treat the concerns seriously, but I haven’t seen any incidents that show there is a real problem.”
Montgomery County law prohibits discrimination against transgendered individuals in housing, employment, cable television service and public accommodations.
Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government gathered signatures to take Montgomery County’s law to referendum, but the Court of Appeals said the question could not appear on the 2008 ballot. The court’s decision put the law into effect.
Frosh expects his committee to vote in the coming weeks.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Sen. C. Anthony Muse.