Referendum drive possible if transgender rights bill passes -- Gazette.Net







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Opponents of a bill to include gender identity in Maryland’s anti-discrimination laws are warning it could be challenged in a referendum if the measure passes this session.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., would add gender identity as a protected category, protecting transgendered people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations — including restaurants, bars, movie theaters, stores, and coffee shops.

Madaleno’s bill hasn’t passed both chambers yet. The Senate passed an amended version of the bill, which is currently under consideration by the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

However, Madaleno said the House has passed similar legislation this term and he is confident it will pass the Fairness for All Marylanders Act.

Del. Neil C. Parrott — who created, an online petition site used to challenge the state’s gay marriage law and the DREAM Act — said there’s no effort now to bring the transgender rights bills to the ballot. But it is “certainly something that will be considered” if the bill passes the legislature and heads to Gov. Martin J. O’Malley’s (D) desk for a signature, he said.

“It is certainly a bill that will be harmful to Marylanders across the state,” he said.

Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown said protecting transgendered individuals from discrimination in public places such as bathrooms and locker rooms would risk the safety of children in those places.

Parrott and other have taken to referring to the bill as the “bathroom bill.”

Montgomery County Republican Chairman Michael Higgs said the county party will back an effort to bring the issue before voters, if the bill passes the General Assembly.

Most legislation passed by the state could be subject to a referendum, Madaleno said. Appropriation bills, however, can’t be petitioned to referendum.

“I would be very interested to see the Republican party of Maryland take a firm stance that they are the party of discrimination, that they believe people should be thrown out of their homes, or fired from jobs or denied meals in restaurants for simply being who they are,” Madaleno (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington said. “If that is what the Republican party of Maryland or the Republican Party of Montgomery County stands for, I look forward to having that debate.”

The key concern for Montgomery County’s Republican party is the public accommodations provision.

“[T]he portions which would allow men to use women’s bathrooms. ... In other words, if a boy decides he is a girl, he can use the girls’ bathroom if this bill becomes law,” according to the party’s latest “Party Line” newsletter.

Parrott said he opposes the entire bill.

Madaleno said those most at risk of violence when they step into a public restroom are transgendered men or women.

“The reality is that trans people are far more likely to be the victims of assault than other people,” he said.

Madaleno said testimony on the bill showed that in cases where women have been assaulted in restrooms, the attacks are committed by straight men, not transgendered people.

“There is no documented evidence that these laws are being used to gain access to a bathroom for an activity that is currently criminal and will remain criminal such as assault or indecent exposure,” Madaleno said. “Nothing in the bill changes those laws.”

Parrott argued that the bill could open the door in Maryland for violence that has been reported in other states.

He provided The Gazette articles he found about men posing as women to commit alleged sexual offenses.

A February report in the Toronto Sun said a man claiming to be a transgendered woman was in court for allegedly assaulting women at a shelter. The Daily Caller reported in June 2013 that a man dressed as a woman to gain access to student-only areas at Loma Linda University in California. And The Oregonian reported in July 2011 that a man was taken into police custody for reportedly dressing as a woman to gain access to the girls’ dressing room at a swim park.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank said the Senate amended the definition of gender identity in its bill to preclude concerns about cross-dressers or deviants who want to inhabit opposite sex bathrooms or do something lewd or lascivious.

However, Shank (R-Dist. 2) of Hagerstown voted against the bill because he felt it opened the door to carving protections for other small groups of people. He said the Senate did not change the language to state that the law does not protect those attempting to use it for any illegal purpose.

In 2008, Montgomery County passed similar protections for transgendered people and opponents tried to take the law to referendum. The matter never reached the ballot because the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in 2009 that the opponents had failed to collect enough valid signatures.