While presenting her testimony to the Montgomery County Council Tuesday, Oct. 2, against the passage of a bill that would protect transgender people by adding the words ''gender identity'' to the county's anti-discrimination policy, Dr. Ruth Jacobs, an infectious disease and allergy specialist, wore a white lab coat -- completing the look with a stethoscope around her neck. Looking like she had just walked off the set of Grey's Anatomy, Jacobs, the only person to offer testimony against the bill at the public hearing, warned that passage of Bill No. 23-07, sponsored by Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), would discriminate against ''ex-transgenders.'' These are, she claims, people who have ''stepped out of'' being transgender.
Bandying the technical term ''gender identity disorder,'' a controversial diagnosis generally required in the United States before gender reassignment surgery may be performed, Jacobs asked the Council to ''be true to biology.''
Trachtenberg, who holds a master's degree in social work and once maintained a private practice in adolescent addiction, said she found Jacobs' testimony biased and lacking in merit because of Jacobs' lack of experience and training in dealing with the transgender community.
''As someone who is trained clinically to work with people in the area of mental health, what I would suggest to you is that there...are rare instances of where transgender status is identified as mental illness,'' Trachtenberg countered. ''Even if it was the case,...it would still be wrong to discriminate against an individual based on a medical condition.''
Maryanne Arnow, a professional chef who has lived in Montgomery County for the past 37 years, testified that, as a male-to-female transgender woman, she has found it difficult to find employment.
''This is very painful and difficult, especially in light of my talents and my desire to share those talents with others,'' she said.
Carrie Evans, policy director at Equality Maryland, said passage of the bill would protect people such as Arnow against discrimination in employment, housing and other public accommodations.
''In this measure, gender identity is defined as an individual's actual or perceived gender, including a person's physical appearance, expression, image, identity or behavior,'' she said. ''Whether or not those characteristics differ from the characteristics customarily associated with a person's assigned sex at birth.''
Lois Hackey, compliance program manager for Montgomery County's Office of Human Rights, spoke on behalf of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who also supports the bill.
Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, said by passing such legislation, Montgomery County would join ''a growing national trend'' currently visible in 13 states and 90 local jurisdictions across the United States.
''Discrimination is happening in Montgomery County, as much as we'd like to pride ourselves in having a progressive jurisdiction,'' Furmansky told the Council. ''I hope we can all be able to agree that people should be able to live their lives free from discrimination and should be judged on the basis of their ability to do a job.''
The Council's Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled to take up the bill at its Oct. 15 meeting.