Braving the evening cold and an impending ice storm, a spirited crowd of Maryland voters rallied in Annapolis Monday evening in support of the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act (HB 235) and the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (SB116) before heading indoors to lobby their legislators on both bills.

Equality Maryland asked voters to first speak with each legislator about the gender bill and then the marriage bill, said field organizer Owen Smith today in an interview.  “Legislators thought we were going to go in and talk about marriage.  And were were like, first we want to know what you’re doing about the gender bill.  We want these protections for our friends.  This is our community too.”  After speaking in support of the gender bill, voters asked that our marriages be recognized.  Such tight LGBT community solidarity “is imperative right now.  We all need to be together as one big community and not be fractioning ourselves apart.  That’s exactly what the opposition wants.  They want us to in-fight so they can come in and conquer.”  According to Owen, the approach was quite successful.  

I heard beautiful stories from people who had originally come to lobby for marriage because they want their relationships recognized.  When they realized that we were doing both bills some beautiful stories emerged.

I was lobbying with two married lesbians from one of our key districts in Baltimore and they told stories about friends in their lives who are transgender who they want to see be able to have jobs without having to deal with harassment.  

One of them is a rental property owner and manager who told about how trans people will come in and lie to her about who they are because there is so much fear [of being rejected for a lease].  She feels that is so sad and says “this is a safe space, you can be whoever you are” and then they’ll come out to her as being trans.  People have such fear.  From the perspective of a landlord she was able to illustrate that fear that transgender people have going in just to fill out a rental application.

One of these constituents made the staffer cry when she was telling the story of a friend who was discriminated against at work.  It was so beautiful, so moving.

We also had a good number of transgender people who were there advocating for themselves from their own personal place, which was also amazing.

Owen said that the marriage bill will have its first hearing in the Senate on Feb 8th and the gender bill will have its first hearing in the House the following week or week after.  The next lobby day is scheduled for Feb. 14th, Valentine’s Day.

“We have a lot to do in a short time, but we’re so close to getting these much-needed protections for transgender Marylanders.  It’s really encouraging that a lot of members from the LGBT community are also standing up and fighting too.  It’s a wonderful thing as a transgender Marylander to see.  It’s not just me fighting, it’s not so isolating.  People get it.  People get that people are dying.”

Owen has a personal stake in getting the gender bill passed that lies well beyond his duties as a field organizer for Equality Maryland.  Read an excerpt of his story after the flip.

Is the bill everything we want? No, but it is a start – many of us don’t have the time to wait around for the perfect bill. We recognize that we still have work to do for full Gender Identity protections, but we have an opportunity right now to gain major protections to secure many basic needs for transgender Marylanders and create a fundamental infrastructure to keep transgender rights moving forward.

As a transgender Marylander, I have been physically assaulted for not being “man enough” to lift over 200 lbs of dead weight. I was publicly humiliated consistently in front of my co-workers and customers having inappropriate slurs shouted at me about being a “he-she” and other things I do not even want to type. I learned first hand the need for employment protections in the work place.  No one should live through the embarrassment and physical violence I faced in the work place.

As a result of my employment issues, I was forced to look for new housing where rental after rental would see my application but when it came time to meet with the managers, it became clear that they were uncomfortable with my gender presentation.

I remember a place that even made fun of me and asked me inappropriate questions like “what do you have in your pants?” and “what are you?” They then raised the rent 200 dollars over the rent quoted to my friend, who was an applicant for the same apartment.

Because of this type of discrimination due to my gender identity, I was homeless, without a place to live for nine months. Everyone, regardless of their gender identity or presentation, deserves and needs a roof over their head. This bill will provide a roof and employment opportunities for a population that is usually left homeless. I recognize that I am incredibly lucky. Now I have a job and a home where I am treated with dignity and respect, something that is not true for the majority of transgender Marylanders.

I urge you to support this bill because it will save lives in Maryland.  The issues I faced are not uncommon for our transgender community and continue to mean life or death for many Marylanders.  We need to band together as a community to get these basic protections for our all transgender Marylanders. Stand with me and the transgender community and end this discrimination NOW.

Braving the evening cold and an impending ice storm, a spirited crowd of Maryland voters rallied in Annapolis Monday evening in support of the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act (HB 235) and the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (SB116) before heading indoors to lobby their legislators on both bills.

Equality Maryland asked voters to first speak with each legislator about the gender bill and then the marriage bill, said field organizer Owen Smith today in an interview.  “Legislators thought we were going to go in and talk about marriage.  And were were like, first we want to know what you’re doing about the gender bill.  We want these protections for our friends.  This is our community too.”  After speaking in support of the gender bill, voters asked that our marriages be recognized.  Such tight LGBT community solidarity “is imperative right now.  We all need to be together as one big community and not be fractioning ourselves apart.  That’s exactly what the opposition wants.  They want us to in-fight so they can come in and conquer.”  According to Owen, the approach was quite successful.  

I heard beautiful stories from people who had originally come to lobby for marriage because they want their relationships recognized.  When they realized that we were doing both bills some beautiful stories emerged.

I was lobbying with two married lesbians from one of our key districts in Baltimore and they told stories about friends in their lives who are transgender who they want to see be able to have jobs without having to deal with harassment.  

One of them is a rental property owner and manager who told about how trans people will come in and lie to her about who they are because there is so much fear [of being rejected for a lease].  She feels that is so sad and says “this is a safe space, you can be whoever you are” and then they’ll come out to her as being trans.  People have such fear.  From the perspective of a landlord she was able to illustrate that fear that transgender people have going in just to fill out a rental application.

One of these constituents made the staffer cry when she was telling the story of a friend who was discriminated against at work.  It was so beautiful, so moving.

We also had a good number of transgender people who were there advocating for themselves from their own personal place, which was also amazing.

Owen said that the marriage bill will have its first hearing in the Senate on Feb 8th and the gender bill will have its first hearing in the House the following week or week after.  The next lobby day is scheduled for Feb. 14th, Valentine’s Day.

“We have a lot to do in a short time, but we’re so close to getting these much-needed protections for transgender Marylanders.  It’s really encouraging that a lot of members from the LGBT community are also standing up and fighting too.  It’s a wonderful thing as a transgender Marylander to see.  It’s not just me fighting, it’s not so isolating.  People get it.  People get that people are dying.”

Owen has a personal stake in getting the gender bill passed that lies well beyond his duties as a field organizer for Equality Maryland.  Read an excerpt of his story after the flip. (more…)

Laurel Ramseyer

Laurel Ramseyer

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