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Maryland Becomes the 18th State to Vote for Comprehensive Gender Identity Protections

The state of Maryland has finally joined the civilized world of equality, passing the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination bill and sending it to the governor for his signature.
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The state of Maryland has finally joined the civilized world of equality, passing the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination bill and sending it to the governor for his signature. After eight long years, with little support during six of those years from a community primarily focused on same-sex relationship recognition and marriage equality, the inherent decency of the Democratic Party came to the fore and the job got done. Being such a small part of the LGBT community we had low expectations for many years; finally becoming the marquee community bill allowed us the opportunity to grab legislators' attention. And now the state's major LGBT legislative agenda is complete, and Maryland joins seventeen other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with comprehensive gender identity protections.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank a number of people who played a huge role in bringing this home, and who rarely get the attention they deserve. These are the allies -- gay and straight, cis and trans -- who've done the work quietly, effectively and with perseverance, for whom credit is long overdue.

I will start with the man who recreated Equality Maryland, and made it trans-inclusive from the beginning -- Dan Furmansky. Dan stood firm against the apathy of many, made sure the board became educated, and guaranteed that trans rights would be a major agenda item, and did so just three years after the state had passed a sexual orientation-only anti-discrimination bill. He risked significant political and personal capital when he pushed for a trans-inclusive hate crimes law in '05. It was that hate crimes law that came into effect when Chrissy Polis was beaten six years later. Dan also pushed the first iteration of the state gender identity bill in 2007. His passion and skill set the tone, not only for this victory but for the passage of marriage equality in 2012.

Next is Duchy Trachtenberg, Montgomery County's foremost straight ally. As a first-year councilwoman, she introduced the county bill, #23-07, succeeded in getting it passed unanimously, and showed enormous courage and class in standing firm against an onslaught of hate mail and death threats. A woman of valor, she had no hesitation in standing by her law, and in so doing defined what being a champion is all about. Montgomery County became the template for the Howard and Baltimore County laws passed in 2011-12.

Jonathan Shurberg represented the county trans community as the lead legal advocate both in the local circuit court as well as in the state's highest court when extremists attempted to petition the law to referendum. His dedication and passion inspired a community fearful of having its rights stripped away, and he stood by us through the years to this session when he was instrumental in assisting Senator Raskin in getting the bill out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Other lawyers who made seminal and habitual efforts to help craft the language of the state and county bills were Lisa Mottet and Liz Seaton. Lisa helped develop the Maryland and Montgomery County language, and Liz was indispensable as a legal expert in the successful efforts to pass similar legislation in Howard and Baltimore counties.

Another unsung hero is Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk, who eagerly took sponsorship of the legislation in 2009 and 2011, going so far as to sit in at the Senate President's office when he was resistant to allowing the bill which had passed in the House to proceed to the Senate. She also bore up bravely against an onslaught of hate directed at her by a national trans community incensed that public accommodations protections had been stripped out by party leadership, and still came back as floor leader in 2014 to push this over the finish line, standing tall with dignity against another onslaught of hate speech from Republicans yesterday.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, former Executive Director of Equality Maryland from 2009-2011, stood by the trans community following the disheartening failure of the marriage equality effort in 2011 and helped community leaders push the bill to the final day of session, when defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory on the Senate floor in another failure of leadership. Her inspiration encouraged Sharon Brackett to envision Gender Rights Maryland, which, building upon the success in Montgomery County, worked with PFLAG to pass similar laws in both Howard and Baltimore counties in rapid succession in 2011-12. Those laws, passed with the assistance of PFLAG activists Catherine Hyde, Matt Thorn, Heath Goisovich and Mark Patro, formed the basis for the success we finally had in Annapolis this week.

Diego Sanchez, now Director of Policy at national PFLAG, was indispensable while working for Congressman Barney Frank in helping us educate the Senate President during those first six years. It was only last year when the Senate President became a supporter after the 2012 election that passage in the Senate became feasible.

Darrell Carrington, founding member of the Maryland Black Family Alliance, has served the trans community as a pro bono legislative lobbyist for many years, using his relationships with some Democrats not naturally supportive of the trans community to educate and persuade, the results of which were evident this year in maneuvering the bill out of the resistant Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

And finally, there's Senator Jamie Raskin, the "conscience of the Senate," the man who led the marriage equality floor debate while undergoing chemo, the man who took the time to get to know members of the community so he could speak from his heart on our behalf. And so he did, over many years, until this year when he jumped back into the fray and persuaded highly reluctant Senators to finally pass the bill out of committee, and then weaved more magic in getting a Republican amendment to improve the bill's definition.

There are more, including the gay caucus -- especially Bonnie Cullison, Luke Clippinger, Rich Madaleno, and Heather Mizeur, who silenced the House as she passionately scolded the Republicans who were spouting hate and fear. There were the parents, siblings and children of trans Marylanders, their friends and neighbors, and they themselves. They lobbied every year, making phone calls and writing emails, even when the lack of political leadership made the actions seem futile. But they persevered, and today they are deservedly celebrating.