Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007

Leggett signs transgender discrimination ban into law

Law takes effect in 90 days; opposition groups plan lawsuit and a referendum drive

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett has signed into law the county’s controversial legislation aimed at preventing discrimination against transgender people.

A group that opposes the law, which was signed Wednesday afternoon, is planning to collect thousands of signatures for a referendum next year, and another group plans to file a lawsuit, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

The law takes effect in 90 days.

Michelle Turner, a member of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, said her group will begin collecting the almost 25,000 signatures it needs to put the issue before the voters in November 2008.

‘‘We want this put to a vote and citizens to be able to vote on this bill,” she said. ‘‘The County Council received hundreds and hundreds of letters in opposition to this bill ... and we want citizens to be able to exercise their rights and decide this issue.”

To place a referendum on the ballot, CRC must collect valid signatures from 5 percent — or 24,957 — of the county’s registered voters within 90 days.

‘‘It’s a daunting task,” Turner said.

Opposition began in earnest last month when a council health committee proposed amending the legislation to include a provision regulating areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

After aggressive lobbying, the committee removed that provision and passed the legislation with an 8-0 vote earlier this month.

As approved, the legislation broadens the county’s existing laws that prohibit discrimination against transgenders in housing, employment, cable television service and taxi service. The law leaves it up to managers of public facilities to decide who is accommodated in restrooms and locker rooms.

Although the facilities amendment was removed, opponents say the legislation is still too broad and means women and girls would be exposed to male genitalia either from transgender people who had not yet undergone a sex change operation or from men who would claim to be transgender in order to gain access to locker rooms and restrooms from which they would normally be banned.

Robert H. Tyler, general counsel with California’s Advocates for Faith and Freedom, said his group expects to file a lawsuit on behalf of its clients, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, in the next two weeks.

‘‘We are going to proceed with the lawsuit. We are also going take a longer look at the documentation that occurred at the [council] hearings,” he said Wednesday night.

In a letter to Leggett (D) last week, Tyler argued that the legislation was too vague under the 14th Amendment and that it violates the right to privacy.

Leggett — whose approval was contingent upon removal of the bathroom provision — said county attorneys saw no legal problems with the legislation.