Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Discrimination on the ballot in Maryland?

More later today on Spitzer, Spain and California, but first:

A few months ago my own Montgomery County, Maryland joined about 100 local governments around the country in including "gender identity" in its nondiscrimination ordinance. The amendment was passed unanimously by the county council.

An anti-trans citizens group, however, launched a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot. Council members quickly criticized the organizers for their harsh and intolerant message and their outright lies about the ordinance. Nevertheless, the county board of elections says they've collected enough signatures to stay the ordinance and put it on the November ballot.

Equality Maryland volunteers (myself included) have been working diligently to identify problems with many petition signatures and prepare a court challenge. If you live in the DC-Baltimore region and want to help out this week, visit EQMD's website.

I, for one, am not looking forward to this becoming the transgender community's Briggs Initiative experience. As with that 1978 struggle, discrimination at the ballot box is likely to fail, but it's bound to be a harrowing experience.

In particular, I'm not looking forward to having to educate voters about what the law does and doesn't do with regard to restrooms, locker rooms and the like. I say this both because this is the area where emotional responses run highest, and because it will mean reassuring people (however accurately) that the law doesn't do things that it rightly should do, i.e., permit trans people to use such facilities in accordance with their day-to-day gender expression.I'd rather explain that the alternative -- requiring use of facilities in accordance with birth gender, either for all people or for trans people who have not had/cannot have reassignment surgery -- puts them at risk of harassment and violence, creates obstacles to completing their indicated medical treatment, and makes daily life nearly impossible. Yet, I know that however illusory the perennial objections about "safety" (trans people are not dangerous) and "privacy" (toilet stalls have doors), they continue to be very compelling to those who have had little or no experience to actual trans people.

All of this would be moot, of course, if Maryland passed a gender-identity nondiscrimination bill at the state level. That legislation, however, remains stalled.

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