ANNAPOLIS — A bill barring discrimination against transgender individuals in public establishments, housing and employment cleared the Maryland Senate on Tuesday with the backing of one Frederick County lawmaker and opposition from another.
The bill gained safe passage through the chamber with support from 32 lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Young. Sen. David Brinkley joined 10 other Republicans and four Democrats in voting against the bill.
Young, D-District 3, said he voted for the measure as the next step in seeking equal treatment for all Marylanders.
Brinkley, R-District 4, said he doesn’t view the bill as a matter of fairness and doesn’t see the need for it.
“I just don’t see that it’s a big, burning problem,” he said.
But Brian Walker, board chairman for a Frederick organization that provides services to the gay and transgender community, said there is significant interest in the proposal, noting that numerous people testified in support of the bill.
Under the proposal, places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters or retail establishments, could not refuse to accommodate transgender individuals.
“It’s a great step forward for the state,” said Walker, of The Frederick Center. “It’s great to eliminate another class of discrimination.”
State analysts have reported that at least 17 other states and the District of Columbia have outlawed discrimination based on gender identity. Montgomery, Baltimore and Howard counties and Baltimore city have approved similar measures, according to the analysis.
Sen. Jamie Raskin said the bill’s definition of gender identity is carefully written to prevent its misuse.
To qualify for the bill’s proposed protections, a person must consistently and uniformly demonstrate a gender as a “sincerely held” part of his or her core identity, the legislation states.
“We want this to be a sincere, authentic change,” Raskin, D-Montgomery, said before the vote. “We don’t want nontransgender people to be taking advantage of our laws.”
The bill would give transgender people legal protection to use restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity when in a place of public accommodation or employment, Raskin said.
However, the legislation sponsored by Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, would allow public establishments to offer alternative private spaces for transgender individuals.
Brinkley said he is concerned that the proposal will burden businesses with the need to provide these alternative accommodations.
“To many people, one of their biggest things might be just making sure that there’s clean bathrooms, much less that there’s a third bathroom,” Brinkley said.
The legislation would also prohibit businesses from denying service to transgender individuals. In addition, it would protect against discriminatory housing and employment practices based on gender identity. However, it gives employers the ability to impose reasonable dress and grooming standards.
The bill also includes exemptions for religious institutions, Raskin said.
Now that the legislation has passed the Senate, it will head to the House.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.