Md. Gov. Pledges to Work on Transgender Protection

By BRIAN WITTE
|  Tuesday, May 17, 2011  |  Updated 8:39 PM EDT
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Md. Gov. Pledges to Work on Transgender Protection

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Gov. Martin O'Malley on Tuesday pledged to work for greater protections for transgender people in the aftermath of a brutal attack on a transgender woman in Maryland last month.

O'Malley, a Democrat, said the attack on 22-year-old Chrissy Lee Polis at a McDonald's restaurant in Rosedale has made it clear that more must be done to protect the rights and dignity of transgender people.

“As some have noted, out of this awful beating has come a moment to foster a deeper understanding and respect for the dignity of all persons,” O'Malley said in a statement. “We should not allow the moment to pass without greater action.”

Shaun Adamec, an O'Malley spokesman, said it's too soon to say what shape the legislation will take. Adamec also said it's unclear whether the legislation will be taken up during a special session for congressional redistricting this fall.

“This is more of a statement of a need to address the issue with legislation, and should it be done during the special session or during the 90-day session next year, it's the governor's objective to be a part of that process,” Adamec said.

After a spirited debate, a bill that would have protected transgender people from housing and employment discrimination passed the House of Delegates in March, but the bill failed to pass the Senate.

Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, a Prince George's County Democrat who sponsored the bill, praised the governor's support for greater protections. Now, she said supporters of the legislation need to persuade Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who made clear in the waning days of the session that the bill wasn't a priority after lawmakers had already spent a lot of time on social issues like legalizing gay marriage, which failed to pass.

“We need to be able to convince him that this is indeed a problem and protection is needed for transgendered people in the state of Maryland, because unfortunately discrimination is alive and well in 2011,” Pena-Melnyk said.

Miller, D-Calvert, said in a statement that he voted to extend Maryland's hate crimes statute to protect transgender individuals in 2005, and he expressed support for the action taken by Baltimore County prosecutors.

“No one should ever be a target of violent crime because of their identity, and I commend State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger for prosecuting this case to the fullest extent of the law,” Miller said in a statement.

The House passed the bill during a Saturday session on an 86-52 vote. On the last day of the session, the Senate voted 27-20 to send the bill back to a committee, effectively killing it.

The issue drew additional attention after Polis was attacked in Baltimore County a week after the session adjourned in April. Two teens are facing assault and hate crime charges.

A videotape of the April 18 beating was posted online and showed a woman being attacked repeatedly while an employee and customer try to stop them.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said he planned to file legislation at the start of the 90-day session in January to add gender identity to the state's anti-discrimination laws. Madaleno said that while he would support addressing legislation during the special session, he said it would likely be better to introduce it in January.

“It's incredibly welcomed, and I think it could be a real game changer for moving the legislation forward,” Madaleno said, referring to O'Malley's support.

Lynne Bowman, interim executive director of Equality Maryland, said she would like to see a bill that adds full protections based on gender identity to the state's existing nondiscrimination laws.

“I definitely believe that something needs to happen sooner rather than later,” Bowman said. “There are people who are losing their jobs, being kicked out of their homes and experiencing violence every day. The passage of this bill can't come soon enough.”

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