Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Delegate Mary Washington Testifies

for the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill

Del. Washington's statement below the fold.

My name is Mary Washington, and I represent the 43rd Legislative District in Baltimore City. My district includes some of the best neighborhoods in Baltimore City, including Abell, Cedarcroft, Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, Ednor Gardens, Guilford, Homeland, Lauraville, Northwood, Radnor-Winston, Tuscany-Canterbury, Waverly, and Woodbourne Heights. Our communities are vibrant and diverse, and truly represent a cross-section of who we are as Marylanders. The 43rd district is home to a large population of individuals who would benefit from the protections afforded by House Bill 235. House Bill 235 would, among other things, ban discrimination in employment and housing based on a person's gender identity. The bill also bans discrimination based on gender identity by entities regulated by the Maryland Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation, which effectively bans discrimination in the extension of credit, including mortgages and car loans. These protections would afford some of the most vulnerable members of our society to obtain a measure of much-needed protection, protections that can sometimes mean the difference between employment and poverty, or shelter and homelessness.

Maryland's laws against discrimination are intended to promote the fundamental values that underlie our political system - including personal liberty, tolerance of diverse backgrounds and points of view, and respect for privacy. Above all else, our anti-discrimination laws should serve to protect members of minority groups most marginalized in our society. We should extend that protection to individuals whether the defining factors of the minority group are race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religious or political beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It's way past time for Maryland to extend these protections to transgendered Marylanders.

Discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals persists, and the necessity for explicit legal protection is imperative. Promisingly, lawyers and advocates for civil rights have argued that a broad interpretation of existing federal and state laws prohibits discrimination based on gender identity - and the courts have ruled favorably in some cases. Indeed, Title VII - the federal law that bans workplace discrimination - already prohibits some forms of sex-stereotyping against gender non-conforming individuals. However, bad actors seeking to defend discriminatory acts repeatedly challenge these holdings in court. The court rulings protecting transgender and gender non-conforming individuals from insidious discrimination are not certain or guaranteed, and Marylanders should not have to rely on a gamble in the courts as their only recourse in the face of discrimination. For this reason, we must make the law clearly state that Maryland bans discrimination based on gender identity.

I cannot understate the real-life implications for Marylanders. Every year, qualified, hard-working Marylanders lose job opportunities, face termination, or experience on-the-job discrimination merely because of their gender identity. Like all Marylanders, transgender people need to work to support themselves and their families. Discrimination based on gender identity occurs across a range of types of workplaces, all over Maryland. Workplace discrimination threatens the well-being and economic survival of these workers and their families. Like other workers, transgender workers deserve to be judged on their skills and qualifications, and on their work and its merit, not on their gender identity, which is wholly unrelated to job performance.

In addition to guaranteeing a level playing field in employment, House Bill 235 would ensure that housing opportunities are made available to all, based solely on the ability to pay and other nondiscriminatory factors. Others will testify about the difficulties faced by transgender individuals in their quest to secure adequate housing. It is well-documented that transgender individuals are shown less desirable properties when they attempt to rent or buy, are quoted higher prices than non-transgendered individuals, receive less favorable customer service, or encounter outright refusal to sell or rent properties. We have heard many anecdotes in which people suffered verbal harassment from landlords, realtors, and lenders based solely on their gender identity. This is not the Maryland way, and it needs to end.

Finally, House Bill 235 would require mortgage lenders and other originators of credit licensed by the Maryland Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation to not discriminate in the extension of credit based on gender identity. This is a significant protection for transgendered Marylanders, as often they will have varying forms of identification that will include different gender markers, depending on how they might identify. House Bill 235 would require lenders to work through these issues and extend credit on the basis of characteristics relating solely to the borrower's creditworthiness, not related to their gender identity.

I know that some members of our community are not happy that this legislation does not include protections against discrimination in the accessing of public accommodations. I share this displeasure. However, I commit to working in future sessions to advance legislation to ban gender identity discrimination in public accommodations.

Every single day, transgender people are fired for being who they are, even when they have excellent work records and skills. As a result, their families struggle and often fail to make ends meet, people lose their homes, and careers end, all because someone's supervisor decided that it was okay to discriminate. People are denied housing or access to credit, based solely on their gender identity. That is not the Maryland way. This legislation is absolutely needed to make it clear that discrimination is never acceptable. Please vote in favor of House Bill 235.