- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2014

Maryland’s legislature on Thursday passed a transgender equality bill that will ban discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations, one of the first of such statutes in the nation.

Some lawmakers objected, warning that women and girls could find biological males in their bathrooms, and employers may be exposed to civil rights investigations if they decline to hire a transgender person.

Still, the measure easily passed the Democratic-led House of Delegates, 82-57. The “Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014” had already passed the Maryland Senate. It now goes to Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is expected to sign it.

A number of delegates defended the bill as a needed protection for a vulnerable population.

These people are “born in a body that doesn’t align” with their gender identity, said Del. Heather R. Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat who is running for governor, who beseeched her colleagues to stop with the jokes, hypotheticals and “perpetuation of fear” in the debate over the rights of transgendered persons.

Opponents, including lawmakers from the Eastern Shore and Washington and Frederick counties, said their constituents were legitimately concerned about men following girls into female bathrooms, showing up in women’s department-store dressing rooms or in girls’ locker rooms at the pool. “My constituents think we have lost our minds down here by passing bills that change, or try to change, nature,” said Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore.

Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, a Democrat from Prince George’s-Anne Arundel, noted that the law exempts private facilities such as local pools if they provide places that are the functional equivalent for transgender persons. That could include a “shower curtain and a rod,” she said. Opponents were not convinced, saying “separate-but-equal” laws have already been struck down.

Instead, they predicted that protective fathers will be arrested for entering women’s bathrooms and confronting transgender women who follow their daughters into such facilities. Predatory men will “put on a dress to get what they want,” warned one lawmaker.

Transgender-employment rights were rarely brought up in Thursday’s debate, but at one point delegates debated whether employers could face civil rights violations if they didn’t hire a transgender applicant. That could happen if a transgender applicant complains, a bill sponsor said, because the law outlaws discrimination based on transgender status.

The Maryland bill does not affect public or private schools; however, the language in the law could be adopted by state school officials, bill sponsors said.

California last year became the first state to adopt a transgender bathroom equality law, but that measure faces questions as opponents mounted a drive for a ballot initiative this year to ask voters to overturn it.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen reported in February that the petition drive failed to obtain enough signatures. But referendum proponent Gina Gleason this month filed a lawsuit, asking a court to order Ms. Bowen to certify their referendum because county officials illegally threw out “a substantial number of signatures.”

Their lawsuit, brought by lawyers with Pacific Justice Institute and colleagues, maintained that an unidentified number of signatures were incorrectly rejected because of transposed numbers, “hand printing” that didn’t match a voter’s registration card, signatures that didn’t match ones captured on motor-vehicle electronic signature pads and technical errors.

Ms. Bowen’s office did not immediately have a comment on the matter.