The Maryland House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on a controversial bill that would prohibit some discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in the state, on Wednesday, March 9, at 1 p.m.
The Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination bill, House Bill 235, was introduced on Jan. 28, and is controversial because while it provides some protections – such as in areas of housing and employment – it does not provide others, such as requiring establishments to provide gender-neutral bathroom facilities.
Still, the bill has garnered the support of Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery), the only out gay member of Maryland's Senate, who says he was asked by Equality Maryland hold off introducing a Senate version for strategic reasons.
''They believe it is an important strategic decision to have the House act first on this legislation,'' Madaleno explained in a statement released by his office. ''I have and continue to be the leading advocate for gender identity anti-discrimination in the Maryland Senate. When the House passes this bill, I will lead the effort in the Senate to pass it in our chamber and move it to Gov. O'Malley's desk for his signature.''
The homicide of 25-year-old Tyra Trent, a transgender woman, brought a sense of urgency to the legislation. Trent was found dead from asphyxiation in her Baltimore apartment on Feb. 19. Police are still investigating the homicide.
Sharon Brackett, a local transgender activist and supporter of Equality Maryland, says she would like to lead an effort to rename the bill as the Tyra Trent bill, but only with the consent of Trent's family.
''When I looked at what this bill was about, which was housing and employment, and knowing what I had read about Tyra, she had had a history of trouble with the law and had been selling her body on the street to make ends meet,'' says Brackett. ''I can't wonder if we had a proper [law] protecting employment for transgender persons, her life might have been different.''
Bracket adds that the suggestion to rename the bill is not about publicity, but rather pointing out that Trent, and many others facing similar struggles in Maryland, might have had different opportunities had there been antidiscrimination protections in Maryland.
According to Equality Maryland, there is currently no state or federal law that provides such protections for transgender people in Maryland.