Before beginning this section it is important to understand that the legislature of Maryland meets for a short term. A mere 90 days in the year. That means that all bills that are to become law must be introduced, referred to committee, reviewed, hearings held, floor votes taken and then it needs to be done all over again in the other chamber as we have a House of Delegates and a Senate. In the scheme of things, that is not a long time to do anything.
And so if you had two items of business with the legislature you would probably need to get both queued up at nearly the same time. And of course that is exactly what has happened in Maryland with respect to HB235 the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act and SB116/HB55 Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act. Both of these bills are of interest to the LGBT community in Maryland and both have been endorsed by Equality Maryland.
When HB235 was introduced without public accommodations there were many in the Trans community that made the statement that our LGB “friends” had thrown us “under the bus” yet again. And one could make an uninformed decision that the removal of that language was somehow “bartered” away in a proverbial “smoke filled room”. That in order to garner support for marriage equality the LGB part of the world had sold off our rights in the process.
That sort of thinking makes a couple of assumptions. The first is that such a discussion was actually even had and the second that the terms of the barter were put forward by LGB lobbyists and not the legislators themselves. The reality is that the only coupling is the calendar. And in this case the legislators told us, if you put public accommodations in HB235 the bill will never see the light of day. Period. If you like you can ask the sponsors of the bill, they will tell you. Sandy Rawls did.
I am reminded by the old discussion of cause and effect. It is a well known fact that in Summer months ice cream sales go up. And in those same months in most urban areas the crime rate goes up. Quite naturally it is reasonable to assume then that increased ice cream sales lead to more crime. Or is it that the crime leads people to eat more ice cream, I forget which. Obviously that argument is fallacious. It is probably most likely due to the heat, and the fact that people are out-of-doors more. But even those assumptions in the absence of real data could be suspect. And so it goes here in Maryland with these two bills.
Let’s take a closer look without the “gut reaction”. Marriage Equality as an issue can stand on its own two legs. I am pretty sure this is the case. In the wake of the repeal of DADT, the events surrounding the Proposition 8 case in California, and even in our own state, where the Attorney General and Governor have agreed to the recognition of same sex marriages from out of state, it is pretty clear there is a sea-change underway. Meaning there is a body of supporters for this notion. Be they citizens, activists, lobbyists or legislators. And the interesting bit is that the arguments for Marriage Equality are not made stronger or weaker by the presence of a completely independent gender identity bill. In point of fact it has no effect at all.
I would challenge the critics to point out which legislator changed their position on Marriage Equality because public accommodations were not present in HB235. Go ahead, tell me which legislators? The answer is none. And absent that smoking gun, or even the hint of gunpowder residue there is no case to be made. And even if a legislator did make that assertion, do you really think he/she would care about alienating a few transpeople? I doubt it. He could just oppose the gender identity bill outright.
Those saying it was taken off the table because it jeopardizes marriage equality missed the point. The marriage equality issue is so fundamental to the LGB community do you not think that if trans rights were in the way of that in any way at all that “they” (Gay Inc. as I keep hearing) would have not even bothered to promote a Trans bill at all in Maryland. I mean if your eggs are in one basket then let’s go “all in”. Why would you even bother allocating any resources for a second battle? Especially with the money you got from folks to specifically fight the first one. I am pretty sure that there have not been any non-trans LGB folks that when sending in support dollars to their lobbyist organization that said, “Please make sure my money is spent on the Gender Identity bill exclusively”. The reality is the opposite was probably true.
Seriously, how do getting Trans rights benefit LGB people? Um, they don’t. And yet, despite that reality, organizations like EQMD are still pushing a bill for us. And then when they come and back a bill with rights for us we criticize them, question their motives and commitment, call them names, and vilify them. Frankly, if I was on that team I might just take my ball and go home. And yet, they still do not do this.
And if we do not like the bill as it presently stands who took the time to meet with their legislators in 2009 and 2010 to help craft the present legislation? Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to raise your hands. All you folks out of state with so much to say, put your hands down, you do not live here. Just the locals ok? Hmm, not too many hands up. Ok if you did not do that then you at least met with your activist and lobby organizations to ask them what they were doing to get a bill introduced, right? No, you did not do that either? Um, ok, well at least you sent them some money so they could do the heavy lifting for you on your behalf right? How’s that? You did none of that? And now you are upset? If that is the case then why do you think you have a right to be the Monday morning quarterback of the game.
And there is the rub. We Transfolk are not well organized, we are not involved (please hold your cards and letters, I know there are some that are indeed involved, and committed and dedicated). I am talking about Maryland now. Where I live. Where I have lived for two decades. Where I have transitioned, in place. And the truth is our numbers are small, our wallets are shallow, and our time is limited as many of us are just trying to make ends meet. And so as a “class” we are under represented and unheard. And so my take is that when you get some “friends” who say we would like to help. You should probably take them up on it. But you should never forget that help comes with its own agenda. And when you accept it you have to accept that too.
My last thought is that we complain about Marriage Equality being the total focus of the LGB groups, clearly this is critical to them. But the reality is that Marriage Equality is critical to Transpeople too. Look at the Nikki Araguz case in Texas. Given the orientation diversity I have seen in the Trans community I would say Marriage Equality should be at least as important to us as our LGB allies if not more so. Maybe we should stop tossing rotten tomatoes and eggs at them for a moment and have a conversation? I am, how about you?