Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Equality Maryland Continues Counting Signatures

Rockville - With the backing of Equality Maryland, a statewide lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization based in Silver
Spring, a group of registered voters in Montgomery County have filed suit
against the County Board of Elections, which last week certified petitions
from anti-LGBT activists seeking to overturn an anti-discrimination law passed unanimously by the County Council last year. The certification of the petitions has prevented the gender identity anti-discrimination law from going into effect pending a November 2008 general election referendum. The individuals named in the suit include transgender residents, parents, clergy, a law enforcement officer, business owners, a civil rights leader, a child advocate, the head of a women's organization, and an individual who wishes to have her name removed from the petition because it was misrepresented to her by one of its proponents.

"Our initial review of the signatures submitted to the Board of Elections clearly demonstrates that the referendum proponents violated election law in a number of ways, and the Board of Elections did not appropriately conduct the careful review that the law requires,"
said Silver Spring-based attorney Jonathan Shurberg, who was hired by Equality Maryland to represent the clients.

"As a result, this matter will be brought before the courts in Montgomery County to ask a judge to do what has yet to be done - conduct a thorough and searching review of the petitions submitted to the Board of Elections."

Bill #23-07, sponsored by Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) and passed unanimously by the County Council, is similar to laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity enacted in more than 100 jurisdictions nationally, including 13 states and Washington, D.C. In Maryland, Baltimore City passed a similar law unanimously in 2002 and last year Gov. Martin O'Malley reissued an Executive Order to clarify that transgender-motivated discrimination will not be tolerated in the state hiring process. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, approximately 38% of the U.S. population already lives in such a jurisdiction.

"In verifying and checking these signatures, Equality Maryland is working to ensure that fringe groups aren't able to once again thwart the democratically elected will of Montgomery County residents as they attempted to do with the sex education curriculum,"
said Executive Director Dan Furmansky. "Subjecting our transgender brothers and sisters in the County to a public campaign of inflammatory and malicious statements, followed by a popular vote on their civil rights, would devastate a group of people already subjected to alarming rates of discrimination and violence. Nevertheless, while we believe we will prevail in court, should the referendum qualify for the ballot, we are confident that the people of Montgomery County will vote 'yes' to uphold the anti-discrimination law in November."

The Washington Transgender Needs Assessment survey estimates that 42% of transgender people in the DC Metro Area are unemployed; 31% have incomes of less than $10,000/year; and 19% do not have their own living space. The mostcommon barriers cited by those who lack housing are their economic situation (38%), housing staff insensitivity or hostility to transgender people (29%), estrangement from birth family (27%) and lack of employment (23%).

Equality Maryland is Maryland's largest LGBT civil rights organization, focused on making life better for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens of Maryland. Equality Maryland works to secure and protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Marylanders by promoting legislative initiatives on the state, county and municipal levels and educating the public about the issues faced by our diverse community.

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