Free State Victory

High court rejects petition effort to block Mont. Co.'s trans-inclusive protections

by Yusef Najafi
Published on September 11, 2008, 12:00am | Comments

The nearly yearlong struggle to implement Montgomery County's anti-discrimination law inclusive of gender identity -- blocked by Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG) following the law's unanimous County Council passage -- essentially ended Tuesday, Sept. 9, with a ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals.

CRG has used the courts to block implementation of the law and sought to subject it to voter approval on the Nov. 4 ballot. The Sept. 9 ruling, however, found that CRG received incorrect information from the County Board of Elections regarding the number of signatures needed for a ballot referendum.

''I'm ecstatic on so many levels,'' Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, the state's primary GLBT-advocacy organization, said Tuesday. ''What the case essentially hinged on was the issue of active voters and inactive voters. ... When Montgomery County gave CRG the number of signatures they needed to collect, they erred, because they were supposed to count 50,000-plus inactive voters in Montgomery County, and they didn't. They gave the CRG an undercount.''

While CRG collected more than 25,000 signatures to block the law till it's subjected to voter approval in November, Basic Rights Montgomery, a coalition formed to preserve the county's transgender anti-discrimination law, challenged the validity of those petition signatures, claiming that CRG used a ''smear campaign'' and ''scare tactics'' to secure them. According to CRG's Web site, www.notmyshower.net, with such a law women will no longer feel ''completely safe'' in areas such as public bathrooms and locker rooms.

With the high court essentially reversing an earlier decision of the Montgomery Country Circuit Court, which allowed the CRG effort to move forward, Equality Maryland now has more resources to pursue the organization's agenda, rather than stay on the defensive.

''This means that we can move our energies on passing a statewide gender-identity anti-discrimination law,'' Furmansky says. ''It removes us from being on the defensive. But most importantly, this rhetoric campaign, perpetuated by the [CRG], is over. And this long-overdue, anti-discrimination measure is going to be in place to protect our transgender brothers and sisters in Montgomery County.''

At this time it is unclear when the inclusion of ''gender-identity'' in Montgomery County's anti-discrimination law will take effect.

''The high court remanded it to the lower court to basically comply, so I would assume as immediately as it can be processed,'' Furmansky says.

For more about Equality Maryland, visit www.equalitymaryland.org.