- When will Maryland protect trans people in public accommodations? (Photo: Associated Press)
Today, the Maryland state Senate will hear testimony on legislation that would prohibit discrimination against trans people in housing, employment, and credit—but not in public accommodations like hotels, movie theaters, shops, gyms, lunch counters, and restrooms. The omission has split the state's LGBT community over whether to back the bill's limited protections.
"We still don’t support the bill as it stands," says Jenna Fischetti, media director for Trans Maryland. The organization plans to testify today that an acceptable anti-discrimination bill must "provide critical deterrents to the sort of real and meaningful discriminations the members of Maryland’s transgender community face"—and that means protecting trans people at lunch and at the movies as well as at work and in their homes.
"It's one of those bittersweet things," admits Fischetti, who says she's experienced discrimination both at work and in public for being trans. "We were excited that there were sufficient legislators in the House who supported" the limited protections, she says, "but we would have been a lot more excited if they included public accommodations."
Meanwhile, LGBT umbrella organization Equality Maryland has emerged as a central supporter of the bill, despite its compromises. "We’ve stated very early on we knew the bill wasn’t perfect," says Linsey Pecikonis, communications manager for Equality Maryland. "We have a long way to go to make sure transgender Marylanders are treated equally. But this is legislation that can offer needed protections in employment, housing, and credit right now."
Trans Maryland rejects any strategy that would compromise the trans community's civil rights. "This practically changes nothing for us," says Fischetti, who says that LGBT activists pushing for the bill's passage failed to engage the wider trans community in the deal-making process. "It’s been our goal the entire time: To have the opportunity to go out and live our lives without absolute fear of violence and persecution," Fischetti says. "They didn't make enough of an effort to include us. And it is about us."
Both organizations plan to push again for public accommodation protections next year, whether the legislature votes to approve the employment and housing provisions this week or not. "In the next legislative session, we can push to make sure that public accommodations are covered and trans Marylanders are fully protected," says Pecikonis. "Public accommodations protections remain vitally important to us."
But Trans Maryland fears that this year's compromised bill could trash the chances of any future public accommodations campaign. "This bill puts an extreme burden on our efforts to protect the trans community," says Fischetti. Maryland legislators agreed to drop the public accommodations protections from the bill after state religious groups seized on the accommodations issue, claiming that treating trans people equally in public could lead to sexual predators infiltrating public bathrooms. If trans advocates cede that absurd point now, how will they be in any position to push for an exclusive public accommodations bill in the future? "It’s laughable for an organization to say that we’re going to come back next year for this," Fischetti says. "These rights are all must-haves."
Also complicating future fights for trans rights in the state of Maryland: An LGBT community still reeling from the strategy split. "Ending transphobia begins by educating our public, and we have to do that together, not as one organization or two organizations," Pecikonis says. "And that means ending the transphobia that resides within the LGBT community as well."