Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dilemma Or Decision-Sandy Rawls Speaks

TransGriot Note: Sandy Rawls is the Executive Director of Trans-United in Baltimore.   

There has been an ongoing controversy in the trans community there and nationwide around the fact that Equality Maryland penned and introduced HB 235, a trans civil rights bill that does not cover public accommodations.   

Sandy made the decision to pull her organization's support for the bill and explains why in this guest post.

By Sandy Rawls, Executive Director Trans-United

As the executive Director of Trans-United, a grass-roots community based resource and advocacy program based in Baltimore I was faced with a tough decision.        
Do I support Maryland House Bill 235 or see it for what it is, a feel good tranquilizer that won't help my community, which a dilemma by all means.

Trans-United is a respected voice for many people in Baltimore City and Maryland.   But when Trans-United's voice is used to give political cover for a problematic piece of legislation,  the dilemma that is occurring is causing political and emotional backlash and discord in our community.  
It is also a dilemma that can have damaging consequences to the transgender community’s push for equal rights not only in our state but across the nation as well.. 

I've heard the various voices in our community expressing their concerns about Maryland HB 235 and the lack of public accommodations language.   I did as the executive director of Trans-United what Equality Maryland should have done in the first place before introducing this bill and consulted with the community and an attorney well versed in civil rights law.. 

After hearing from a majority of the community who have urged us to oppose the bill and having the attorney confirm that HB 235 would not protect the Maryland transgender community from discrimination,  I made the painful decision to withdraw Trans-United's support for this bill and oppose it.

While I am the Executive Director and face of Trans-United, this organization is a community based one first and foremost.    That means we belong to this community, not political endeavors who would seek to use it as cover for their political propaganda purposes or to push a bill that is harmful to the transgender community of Maryland.  .

The community should have had their voices heard by Equality Maryland before Maryland HB 235 was introduced, especially in light of the fact that the wounds still haven't healed from the transgender community being cut out of a previous inclusive bill in 2001 that only protects GL Marylanders.

Because that wasn't done and the current wording of HB 235 reflects that, I am deeply saddened that I can’t support the bill this session.    Perhaps those Equality Maryland people who are the lead advocates for the bill will learn from their mistake and try a more all inclusive approach next time.

My fears are also shared by the community that HB 235 will have a negative effect on future transgender community civil rights legislation.    If we try an incremental rights approach that we know has failed elsewhere and accept a flawed bill just to say we passed something,  I fear that when we try to amend this bill, an opposing legislator will say in the future, ”If public accommodation did not need to be in the bill back then, why does it need to be amended in now?”
What will we say in response to that question?
This is why we need to have public accommodations language in Maryland House Bill 235 in this 2011 session, not 2012, 2013, 2014, 2020 or whenever Equality Maryland deems it important enough to push to amend it in.

And in the meantime while they dither, our community will continue to suffer from anti-transgender discrimination we desperately need legislative relief from. 

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