When the Maryland House of Delegates voted in favor of the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, House Bill 235, advocates of the measure were immediately concerned about the bill’s movement in the Senate.
In the past, a similar version of the bill has died four times in the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the bill was expected to go.
Metro Weekly has learned that H.B. 235 will not be going to that committee. Instead the bill received its first reading in the Senate’s Rules Committee on Friday, March 25, and a hearing is expected to be scheduled in the coming days.
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) chairs that committee, with Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County) serving as its co-chair.
According to transgender activist Dana Beyer, who has been monitoring movement of the bill, the switch is bad news.
“It’s bad,” Beyer says, adding that there’s also no explanation given as to why the bill is going to the Rules committee.
“We don’t trust Frosh and this seems to be his way of killing it and leaving himself with clean hands,” Beyer says. “Bills don’t go to Rules Committee unless there’s a problem with them. This is not the normal process. There really is no reason for it. I would say this doesn’t look good, and there’s no excuse for it.”
Another activist in Maryland who has been lobbying for the legislation, Cathy Brennan, says the move means that the bill is "dead."
"The legislation appears dead for this session and a key issue for activists is to determine why Brian Frosh insists on being such an obstacle for this legislation," she says.
[UPDATE: Speaking to Metro Weekly, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, said the organization is not giving up, adding that the organization and supporters were in Annapolis lobbying for the bill yesterday.
"This just happened last night," she said. "We are working with our legislative allies and community leaders to assess the best strategies and tactics at this juncture."
"This is a serious challenge, but we will keep working until the final hours of the session to make this happen. There are two weeks left. We are not giving up and the people who have been fighting by our sides are not giving up."
Ezra Towne, a transgender advocate who has been lobbying for the bill in Annapolis, is keeping a positive outlook on its road ahead.
"I don’t think the bill is dead," Towne says, "I think it's unfortunate that it has to go through another committee, but I think there's plenty of time to get the job done."
"This bill is incredibly important to me," Towne adds.
"This summer I was out of work and I'm also a parent, and that's the first time in my life where my current status as a trans person and the ability to find employment really became an urgent issue for me."]
Before Saturday’s vote, amendments were made to the bill in the House’s Heath and Government Operations Committee, as well as during the bill’s second reading on the House floor.
One amendment added the definition of “gender identity” to the bill. The final version of that definition took out the words “appearance, expression or behavior,” and leaving the definition as: “a gender–related identity, or appearance of an individual regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”
Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George's), lead sponsor of the bill, expressed concern about the bill's movement in the Senate to Metro Weekly immediately following passage of the bill in the House, explaining that this time the bill was written to exclude public accommodations in hopes that it won’t be killed.
“I'm concerned because in the past the support has not been there, so I'm just praying to God, because we amended it the way that we did, taking out public accommodations, as painful as that was, that they will support it now, and that we have addressed their concerns.”
[UPDATE: Meneses-Sheets acknowledges that concern, and adds the bill is about saving lives.
“This is another hurdle to advancing job and housing protections in Maryland this year. We are already working with allies to keep this important bill moving. It is challenging, but this bill would literally save lives and is worth fighting for.”]
Pena-Melnyk could not immediately be reached for comment.