POLITICS
03/20/2014 04:12 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2014

Poll Shows Transgender Rights Bill Has Wide Support, While Lawmaker Fears 'Guy In A Dress' (UPDATED)

A Maryland bill that would prohibit discrimination against transgender people has overwhelming support among state residents, according to a new poll.

Opponents, meanwhile, continue to obsess about men in dresses nefariously hanging around women's bathrooms -- even while acknowledging that they're probably going to lose this one.

The Goucher Poll found that 71 percent of those surveyed said that they favor including gender identity in the state's anti-discrimination laws. Twenty percent were opposed. Metro Weekly reports majority support from both women and men, from black, white and "other" races, and from Republicans (60-27), Democrats (79-15) and independents (68-23).

The state's General Assembly stands poised to pass the protections in a bill called the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014. Maryland's Senate approved it earlier this month, voting 32-15 to grant protections based on "appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual regardless of the individual's assigned sex at birth."

The bill would apply to housing, employment and "public accommodations" like
hotels, restaurants, stores and theaters, with exemptions for some private clubs and owner-occupied rental buildings with fewer than five units, as well as religious groups and educational institutions.

The House, which passed a similar measure in 2011 before it died in the Senate, is expected to take up its version this term.

Opponents of what they term the "bathroom bill" claim that prohibiting discrimination against transgender people would "radically change our society and put our families and children at risk," in the words of Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington County).

Members of an anti-LGBT group called Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government (their website is found at notmyshower.com) have long warned that protecting trans rights would lead to women being attacked in public restrooms by cross-dressing men. Elaine McDermott, a member of the group, cited "five reports of attacks and assaults committed by men in restrooms" in recent testimony against the House bill, reports the Washington Blade. The paper goes on to note that McDermott "described Chrissy Lee Polis, a trans woman who was attacked at a Baltimore County McDonald’s in 2011, as a 'prostitute.'"

"The argument that providing transgender rights will result in an increase of sexual violence against women or men in public bathrooms is beyond specious," Toni Troop, spokesperson for a Massachusetts sexual assault victims organization, recently told Media Matters. "The only people at risk are the transgender men and women whose rights to self-determination, dignity and freedom of violence are too often denied."

Media Matters spoke with members of the law enforcement and victims advocacy communities in 12 of the 17 states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, with statewide transgender antidiscrimination protections. None reported any incidents of sexual assault -- in women's bathrooms or out of them -- arising from these laws.

In 2012, Thomas Manger, police chief for Montgomery County -- one of the Maryland jurisdictions that already prohibits discrimination against transgender people -- also denied the allegations that those protections had led to increased attacks in women's bathrooms.

Manger told HuffPost by email that his original statement stands. "No cases of women being attacked in a public restroom have been reported to us since the original 2012 story," he said.

But if foes continue to play the same old tune, some seem to recognize their song is no longer at the top of the charts. Here's what longtime opponent of LGBT rights Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick) had to say about the Fairness for All Marylanders Act in her latest constituent newsletter:

I want to take this opportunity to let you know that I am completely and unequivocally opposed to this bill which doesn't aim to end discrimination, but to normalize abnormal behavior.

HB 1265 seeks to create a new class of protected individuals in the state's anti-discrimination statute. Specifically, the bill defines "gender identity" as "appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual regardless of the individual's assigned sex at birth."

It is important that Maryland does not separate one's "gender identify" and their "assigned sex at birth" as noted in the bill. Like the majority of Marylanders, I share the view that this redefinition rejects our society's understanding of human nature. So ladies if you happen to see a guy in a dress in the restaurant bathroom, you'll know the bill passed and that I voted NO!

This story has been updated with a comment from Police Chief Thomas Manger.

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