The Washington Blade has a story about the appointment of Carrie Evans as the Executive Director of Equality Maryland.
After the debacle last year of the failure of both a marriage equality bill and a trans rights bill, and a divisive split in the trans community about whether to support or oppose the trans employment rights bill because it failed to include public accommodations, as well as the meltdown experienced by Equality Maryland afterwards, this story caught my eye.
I'm glad to see that Equality Maryland has found someone to lead, and Ms. Evans sounds like a competent leader. What will this mean for trans civil rights protections in Maryland?
Here's what Ms. Evans had to say about Equality Maryland's stance on trans rights in the Blade article:
The marriage bill isn't Equality Maryland's only priority. It's also pushing a measure to bar discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
"They took out public accommodations this year because of the misinformation about bathrooms and locker rooms ... so we just have to give voice to our transgender supporters," Evans said. "We have work to do in forging those relationships so it's a lot of heavy lifting; hopefully the governor will put his support behind the trans bill like he has for the marriage bill. We want to move him to that place, that's essential."
I'm glad that Ms. Evans spoke about trans rights, but I can't help but notice that she didn't mention the major organization expressly organized by trans advocates to move trans civil rights, Gender Rights Maryland. That new organization, organized by the politically savvy Dr. Dana Beyer, has been actively successful in obtaining support in the Maryland legislature. Most recently, former Governor Parris Glendening, who had previously opposed similar bills, announced that he was strongly in support of a trans civil rights bill and of Gender Rights Maryland.
The Gender Rights Maryland blog has a long letter of support from him, and I found the following quote quite edifying:
In 2001, the state of Maryland passed anti-discrimination for gay and lesbian people but fell far short of the inclusion of transgender individuals. Gender Identity is not a "gay" issue and requires the equal promotion of education, tolerance, equality and acceptance.
Due to the absence of securing anti-discrimination for transgender individuals in 2001, I staunchly support the transgender community's efforts in the 2012 legislative session to have full and comprehensive legislation added to the Maryland antidiscrimination policies for transgender individuals.
Gender Identity anti-discrimination is about basic human rights - the right to a job, a place to live and fair treatment in public spaces.
I understand you might have frustrations, given the recent Maryland State Legislative session, but I urge you to continue your steadfast support for legislation into 2012 with Gender Rights Maryland.
Governor Glendening clearly grasps the politics of this matter, noting the problematic nature of having sexual orientation protections in place since 2001 and, ten years later, still no gender identity protections. He's also quite explicit in noting that trans civil rights is not a "gay" issue, but a "civil rights" issue, and that's important in positioning this bill.
It's not a matter of "which gay issue do we support, marriage equality or trans civil rights?" which poses major problems for a trans civil rights bill. Civil rights is civil rights, and trans advocates in Maryland need to be careful that the two aren't conflated, especially since support for marriage equality in Maryland is low (polls of Marylanders suggest 46%-48%) but support for trans civil rights is high (polls of Marylanders suggest 63% across all demographics).
I must admit I'm a little surprised by Ms. Evans's assertion that she wants to move the Governor to a place of support for trans civil rights, given that he has publicly announced his support.
I've also learned that Gender Rights Maryland has a plan in place to get the bill to the floor, sponsors who are politically strong and able to get support from other key politicians, and a clear understanding of political positioning of the bill as a civil rights bill, rather than a "gay" bill. In fact, Jonathan Shurberg, a Board member, recently wrote an article in Baltimore Outloud detailing their plans, and it sounds like they are way on top of this. (Shurberg is also the lawyer who argued and won the Doe vs. Montgomery County Board of Elections case, protecting Montgomery County's comprehensive gender identity civil rights law.)
The trans community should be a bit wary of Equality Maryland because of the events of the last go round with the trans civil rights bill, and Equality Maryland's political and organizational difficulties. The question in my mind is not whether Equality Maryland's new Executive Director should start taking the lead on a trans civil rights bill, but whether they should back off and let trans advocates and organizations take the lead. Equality Maryland should certainly be supportive financially of trans organizations working for civil rights, and should coordinate with those organizations to find out what's wanted and needed. I'm afraid that this is perhaps a bit naive on my part to hope for such partnership, but there, I've said it.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad Ms. Evans is supportive, and I'm glad that she acknowledged in her statement that there was "misinformation" the last time round the mulberry bush. I wish her much success in her new role. I'm just thinking that it's time to give the trans community and its organizations, who seem to really know what they're doing, an opportunity to lead on this.