Governor pledges to fight for transgender protections

Legislation faltered this year; supporters say recent beating underlines need

May 17, 2011|By Julie Bykowicz, The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday that he would work with state lawmakers to "provide even greater protections" for transgender people in the wake of the beating last month of a woman at a McDonald's restaurant in Rosedale.

Lawmakers who fought unsuccessfully this year for legislation to prohibit employment and housing discrimination against transgender people welcomed the support of the Democratic governor.

State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., who plans to sponsor another transgender protection bill next in a future legislative session, said it "could be critical to the success of the legislation."

"Having Governor O'Malley, who has an unparalleled bully pulpit in the state, stand up and say this is the right thing to do, I think will be enough to move people who have been scared in the past to support the bill," the Montgomery County Democrat said.

O'Malley praised Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger for seeking a hate crime charge on top of the assault charge in the Rosedale case. A county grand jury handed up the hate crime indictment Monday.

Teonna Brown, 18, and a 15-year-old girl are accused of attacking Chrissy Lee Polis, a transgender woman, outside a women's restroom at the restaurant. Brown's attorney said she was acting in self-defense. A video of the incident, apparently recorded by a McDonald's employee on his cellphone camera, went viral on the Internet.

"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."

Even with Maryland's hate crimes law, O'Malley said, "it is clear that more must be done to protect the rights and dignity of transgendered people. In the struggle for justice and equality for all, I'm committed to working with the Maryland General Assembly during the next legislative session to increase awareness and provide even greater protections for transgendered people."

The Senate blocked action this year on a bill that would have prevented landlords, creditors and employers from discriminating against transgender people. Some in the transgender community rebuffed the legislation because they said it did not go far enough: It did not include public accommodations protections, which would prevent discrimination in places such as restaurants, hotels and public restrooms.

Madaleno said he would include public accommodations in the bill he plans to file.

Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who sponsored the House bill this year, said she hoped O'Malley would work to convince Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller that the protections "need to be passed."

"Discrimination, from what we learned in the bill hearing and saw in the recent attack, is alive and well in 2011," the Prince George's County Democrat said.

The House of Delegates voted 86-52 this year to pass Pena-Melnyk's proposal.

Miller delayed action on the legislation, saying it would take too much time to debate in the waning days of the legislative session.

He also hinted that he was paying back the House for its failure to pass the same-sex marriage bill after the Senate had devoted time to debating and passing the controversial proposal.

On the final day of the legislative session last month, the Senate voted 27-20 to send the bill back to committee, ending debate on it for the year.

"The Senate's treatment of this legislation will be remembered for a long time by the LGBT community and Marylanders who believe in equal rights for all," Madaleno, the Senate's only openly gay member, wrote in a statement that afternoon.

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