03/01/2013 10:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A First Step for Maryland's Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act

This week the effort to make Maryland the 17th state to provide comprehensive gender identity protections in employment, housing and public accommodations made its first public legislative appearance in Annapolis. Testimony in support of S.B. 449 was heard from over 40 proponents and about a dozen opponents in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, chaired by Sens. Brian Frosh and Lisa Gladden. The proponents' testimony was well-received, as reported in our local news outlets, and I left with the feeling that the legislators realized that the time had come to finish this civil rights job. After six previous attempts and the passage of city and county laws covering 47 percent of the state's population, it is time to cover the entire state and stake out Maryland's position as a civil rights leader. As one proponent said, "It's 2013. Really."

We are fortunate to be led in the Senate by passionate allies, Sens. Raskin and Madaleno, who spoke first and fielded some questions from the panel. Then came my turn:

2013-02-28-SB449leaders.jpgMr. Chairman, Madame Vice Chair and honorable committee members:

I'm Dr. Dana Beyer, Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland, asking you to vote for S.B. 449, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2013. It's a privilege to speak with you this afternoon, as it has been for many years now. But this year is different.

This year we are led by Gov. O'Malley, who signed the first such anti-discrimination bill in Maryland. We have the support of senior legislative leadership. We will present testimony from the lead sponsors of the three counties which have passed similar laws, the benefits accrued and the complete lack of untoward consequences that had been feared by some.

But this year is different because last year was historic. In December of 2011, President Obama proclaimed, and Secretary Clinton echoed, "The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights."

That same month the 11th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, which covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama, next door to a state which, just last week, ratified the 13th Amendment, ruled that transgender persons are a protected class under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. And Howard County passed its gender identity law.

Two months later Baltimore County followed suit, joining Montgomery County from 2007 and Baltimore City from 2002. Then, in April, the EEOC ruled that trans persons are covered under the definition of sex discrimination. In May the president, coming out in support of marriage equality, memorably told us of that "brilliant, radically simple idea of America, that no matter who you are or what you look like, no matter whom you love or what God you worship, you can still pursue your own happiness." As a result, marriage equality was approved by Maryland voters on Nov. 6, clearing the way for this legislation.

One week earlier, the vice president had said, "Trans rights are the civil rights issue of our time." On Dec. 1 the American Psychiatric Association undid the classification of gender identity difference as a mental illness, finally freeing us from that unconscionable stigma based on outdated and unscientific prejudices.

As the president closed out the year, he told Time magazine in his "Person of the Year" interview, "One of the things that I'm very proud of during my first four years is I think I've helped to solidify this incredibly rapid transformation in people's attitudes around LGBT issues -- how we think about gays and lesbians and transgender persons."

Finally, last month, in his Second Inaugural, President Obama explained why we're here today, why we stand for full equality for all residents of our state, how our passion is grounded in the most fundamental of American ideals: "We the people declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall."

Forty-four years ago it was the trans community, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan, that kicked off the LGBT civil rights movement. I know: I was there. And what began there is now being brought to its culmination here, this year, as Maryland does its part to make this a more perfect union.

This year is different. This year the arc of the moral universe will bring justice to Maryland.

Dana Beyer, M.D.

Executive Director, Gender Rights Maryland

Feb. 26, 2013

Barring surprises (always a possibility in the political realm), we are hopeful that the bill will be voted out of committee next week and sent to the Senate floor. We have the votes we need, with 23 senators already committed as co-sponsors and 24 needed to pass.

I am very thankful to all those who contributed at this hearing, either in person or via written testimony, and those who have worked behind the scenes to bring us to this moment.