Terrance Heath

Equality in Montgomery County, MD

Filed By Terrance Heath | November 16, 2007 3:27 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, Politics, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: ENDA, gender, Maryland, transgender

If ever I had a doubt (and I haven't) that we moved to the right place to raise our family, I don't anymore. It one of the things LGBT parents have to take into consideration when making the decision about where our families are going to live and our children are going to grow up: How accepting is this place? How open is it? And, depending on your political leanings, how progressive is it.

When Montgomery County fought back fundamentalists attempts to dictate our schools' health curriculum, I had an inkling that we were in the right place. Now that the county has handily passed transgender equality legislation, I'm downright proud to be a resident.

The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved broad protections for transgender individuals in housing and employment yesterday, despite vigorous protests from a coalition of conservative groups that said the measure would lead to indecent exposure in public locker rooms and restrooms.Without debate, the council voted 8 to 0 to join 13 states and the District in outlawing discrimination based on a person's gender identity. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he intends to sign the measure.

After the vote, council members quickly filed out of the seventh-floor hearing room in Rockville as opponents shouted their objections and warned that members had jeopardized their political futures.

The bill's sponsor, council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), said the spotlight on restrooms was a diversion intended to divide the council. She praised her colleagues for showing that "people in Montgomery County are accepting and fair and have a sense of justice.

Bottom line, discrimination kills. As I continue working on the LGBT Hate Crimes Project it's abundantly clear to me that employment discrimination and even housing discrimination contributes to the deaths of countless transgender women, day in and day out. For the most part, few people will hear of these deaths let alone care about them because, as someone once said about another set of crime victims, they are "less dead" than the Lacy Petersons and Polly Klaas' of the world.

Criminologist Steven Egger calls the victims of serial killers "the less dead" because they are usually people who have been marginalized -- prostitutes, drug users, homosexuals, farm workers, hospital patients and the elderly.

"We don't spend a lot of time dealing with missing people who aren't particularly important; who don't have a lot of prestige," said Egger, a University of Houston-Clear Lake professor and former police officer. It's a public failing as well as a police failing, a common belief being that such people take big risks and get what they deserve.

Hopefully, this signals that Montgomery County is further along the road to being one place where no one's marginalized or "less than," in life or in death.

What's particularly interesting is that a number of the protests seem to have come from outside the county.

Council members were besieged by e-mails and more than 1,000 calls from opponents, including more than 400 from county residents who jammed the council's main phone line. Outside the council building yesterday, about 20 protesters urged the council to reject the measure and carried signs that read "Protect Our Kids" and "Fight Indecent Exposure."

Now why would anyone who doesn't live in the county want the county to favor discrimination against transgender persons? Why would they even care? Unless, of course, they know what the rest of us know.

A threat to injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere. Right?

Tell me again that America's not ready for transgender equality. Well, we are even if the rest of them aren't, and this is how you get America ready.

If we want to pass a trans-inclusive ENDA then it's going to take national organizations contributing to local and state efforts like this. As with marriage, once people see that the world doesn't explode and the sun will still rise tomorrow if they stop discrimination against their transgender neighbors they'll be more ready than you might think.

Because changing laws is one way to change hearts. If you can change just enough hearts to change the law, you'll change many more when people are no longer divided by prejudice and discrimination. When you witness someone working beside you, living next door to you, contributing to their community, paying their bills, taking care of their families, and little by little it gets harder to believe that they deserve to be discriminated against, or that nothing should be done about it if they are.

After all, they're just people. Right?

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 17, 2007 3:52 AM

Because changing laws is one way to change hearts. If you can change just enough hearts to change the law, you'll change many more when people are no longer divided by prejudice and discrimination.

Right on!! I'm glad you're living in such a progressive place. (Excellent post!)

I think you make 2 extremely important points in this post, Terrance.

First, I think the right wing's opposition to hate crimes and discrimination employment is soooo based on the notion that "they are "less dead" than the Lacy Petersons and Polly Klaas' of the world." I always get so sick each time I see some pretty blonde white girl has gone missing and the whole country gets in an uproar. At the same time, several gay kids go missing and no one makes a peep. Or black kids. Hispanic kids. Kids that aren't pretty or look like Barbie dolls...

And secondly,

What's particularly interesting is that a number of the protests seem to have come from outside the county.

Here in Indy, our inclusive human rights ordinance covers both sexual orientation and gender identity. But it had to be brought before the council twice - it failed the 1st time. Why?

Because the right wing generated thousands of e-mails, phone calls and letters opposing the ordinance. The Council shuddered and punted on the HRO. It took some digging but we were able to prove to most of the Council (the ones willing to listen, that is!) that 98% of the contacts had come from Tupelo, Mississippi and Colorado Springs, CO. You know - the AFA and Focus on the Family... Once they realized that the majority of Indy residents didn't oppose the ordinance, our job got a hell of a lot easier the 2nd time it was brought before the council. In fact, it ended up helping us since many of the Councilors felt like the right wing fundies had deceived them.

And just for the record, ditching gender identity was considered. For about ten seconds. The Indy community decided "all or nothing" was the only way we'd win. And we did.