- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) | As more state and local governments extend anti-bias protections to the transgendered, fierce opposition is surfacing.

In Colorado, conservatives contend a new state law will enable sexual predators to frequent women’s bathrooms; in Maryland a “Not My Shower” campaign seeks to overturn a comparable county law.

Though insisting the criticisms are unfounded, transgender-rights activists cite an overall trend toward greater anti-discrimination laws. In the past 15 years, 13 states and more than 90 cities and counties - home to roughly 40 percent of the U.S. population - have passed measures banning various types of discrimination against people who do not identify with their biological sex.

Among those jurisdictions is Maryland’s affluent Montgomery County, where the county council voted 8-0 last year to extend civil rights protections for housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of gender identity.

Opponents, contending the law threatens privacy in public restrooms and health-club showers, launched a petition campaign to put the issue to voters in Nov. 4 general election. Election officials ruled that enough valid signatures were gathered, but pro-gay groups were in court Thursday seeking to quash the ballot measure because of alleged irregularities.

If the ballot measure survives, activists on both sides say Nov. 4 would mark the first time that voters anywhere in the U.S. pass judgment specifically on a transgender-rights measure. Dan Furmansky, head of the statewide gay rights group Equality Maryland, hopes the showdown is averted.

“I think we could win, but it would be a very expensive, defensive proposition,” he said. “We don’t want to subject our transgender brothers and sisters to a campaign of fear-mongering where their civil rights are up for a popular vote.”

A spokeswoman for opponents of the new law, Michelle Turner of Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government, blamed the county council for the fuss, saying it enacted the bill despite an outpouring of calls and letters opposing it.

“We want the citizens of Montgomery County to have their voices heard,” Ms. Turner said. “They were ignored once and now it’s their turn.”

Ms. Turner’s group, with a Web site called NotMyShower.net, has focused on access to public bathrooms and locker rooms. They contend the new law entitles a man who thinks he is a woman to use the women’s bathroom - leaving open the chance that molesters would take advantage of the measure to intrude into such facilities.

“No longer will women and girls be able to feel completely safe,” the group says. “The outrageous legislation … may result in forcing even religious schools to hire transgender teachers - and then also allow cross-dressing but biological males in your daughter’s school locker room.”

In Colorado, conservative groups waged a similar campaign last month to block a bill that bans discrimination against gays and the transgendered in housing and public accommodations. Radio ads urged listeners to tell Gov. Bill Ritter he shouldn’t sign the bill, though he proceeded to do so on May 29.

“Henceforth, every woman and little girl will have to fear that a predator, bisexual, cross-dresser or even a homosexual or heterosexual male might walk in and relieve himself in their presence,” wrote James Dobson, founder of the conservative ministry Focus on the Family.

Transgender activists say there is no record of any problem with predators, or any other type of bathroom or shower harassment arising from the transgender-rights laws already in place in scores of jurisdictions.

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