Friday, March 7, 2008

Transgender opponents collect enough signatures for referendum

Voters will vote county law up or down in November

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Almost a year after receiving County Council approval, an anti-discrimination law aimed at transgendered people will be put before voters for a final decision on the November ballot.

Opponents of the legislation successfully collected enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot. The county Board of Elections certified the signatures today. The group, Citizens for Responsible Government, filed more than 32,000 signatures, and needed 25,001 valid signatures for the referendum.

The law - which broadens the county's existing laws to prohibit discrimination against transgendered people in housing, employment, cable television service and taxi service - was passed by the council in November. Because CRG began the referendum petition, the law has been on hold, and could never take effect if voters strike down the bill in November.

‘‘We look forward to the next step, reaching out to the voters and informing them about this bill, which utterly fails to secure the safety and privacy rights of women and children,” said CRG president Ruth Jacobs in a release.

Before the law was passed CRG had argued against a contentious amendment, which would have also included areas like bathrooms and locker rooms in the bill. The council removed the amendment and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) approved the law. Still, CRG has argued that the law is too vague.

Although the signatures have been certified, proponents of the county law say the fight is not over.

‘‘We still have plans to challenge the signatures,” said Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland.

Furmansky and other supporters have been doing their own verification of CRG's signatures. ‘‘The scrutiny we're doing is significantly greater than what the Board of Elections is doing. We intend to make sure that that's done.”

Furmansky said proponents are meeting with lawyers today to determine the next step and whether to take legal action to challenge the signatures.

Equality Maryland had received two matching grants totaling $5,000 to help pay for legal bills associated with the challenge. The group sent out e-mail messages to its members and distribution lists asking for contributions to match the grants.