Working to Advance Transgender Equality in Maryland With the Municipal Equality Index
December 6, 2013 by Guest contributor
Post submitted by Dana Beyer, Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland
As the Executive Director of Maryland’s first organization dedicated to full time advocacy of transgender equality, Gender Rights Maryland, I view the Municipal Equality Index (MEI) as an important new mechanism for advancing full equality.
The MEI sends a clear, evidence-driven message that we can make meaningful progress advancing LGBTQ equality at the municipal level and do so in a way that builds towards statewide change. As a longtime Maryland resident and activist, who, along with others, has pursued a municipality based strategy since 2005, I can attest to the effectiveness of this approach. The index serves as a useful tool that gathers, analyzes and organizes a vast amount of data on municipal policy, making such data transparent and accessible to help activists around the country identify their city’s standing in relation to others. This is good for the entire LGBT movement and particularly good for the transgender community, as we have the most progress to make and the most structural barriers impeding our full equality. Along with the Healthcare Equality Index and Corporate Equality Index, the MEI is another powerful tool that HRC has created which can advance transgender equality.
In addition to ranking cities, it is critically important that we also tell the story of the activists on the ground, in particular, the stories of those transgender leaders – such as Donna Cartright, Sharon Brackett, and myself- who were directly responsible for the passage of the majority of gender inclusive non-discrimination in my home state of Maryland. I first lobbied Montgomery County Councilmember (now Secretary of Labor) Tom Perez in 2006, and once hired as senior staffer to Councilmember Trachtenberg led the effort to unanimously pass the comprehensive county anti-discrimination law.
Then, in the face of hate mail, death threats, and county political intrigue, and with the help of Equality Maryland ED, Dan Furmansky, representatives from HRC and the Task Force and many local elected officils and activists, defended the law, finally winning a decision argued by Jonathan Shurberg in the state’s highest court. I followed that up with my work as Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland, formed in 2011 by Sharon Brackett and other committed activists, when we worked closely with PFLAG on the ground to pass similar bills in Howard and Baltimore Counties in rapid succession. Those successes brought the percentage of the state’s population being protected under law to nearly 50%, and included most of the trans population.
All along I have been working to build support in Annapolis for passage of a state anti-discrimination act, long needed as the trans community was excluded from the sexual orientation-only law of 2001.The inclusion of this sort of detail is important because it reflects the reality that many LGBT organizations still don’t prioritize T issues and transgender people too often need to carry the mantle for ourselves; because it creates an opportunity to celebrate the leaders who spent many hours of their lives contributing to making such laws possible and because these details contain many timely lessons.
These details are critical as they serve as a reminder to all of us –including transgender leaders like myself- the importance of inclusion and solidarity at a moment where we are now faced with choices around the prioritization and integration of the next generation of gender queer, gender non-conforming, intersex and others into our movement. It teaches future organizers that they can successfully advocate for themselves and their needs even as they struggle for inclusion in the broader community. Finally, and hopefully, it teaches us that the misunderstandings and conflicts of today do not necessarily forgo support and collaboration tomorrow. Certainly, the MEI is not a place for a lengthy recounting of history, but I look forward to the MEI highlighting the efforts of Transgender leadership in future editions.