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Opponents can't overturn Maryland transgender rights law

Opinion

Just over a day after transgender Americans won a major victory at the national level, Marylanders fighting for equality won another battle for transgender rights when opponents of a bill signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley failed to obtain enough signatures to force a referendum on the law by midnight Saturday.

Equality Maryland, the state’s largest organization lobbying for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, announced the outcome on their Facebook page just after the clock struck midnight Sunday morning.

State Del. Neil Parrott (R-Hagerstown) began a petition drive in an attempt to block the Fairness for All Marylanders Act from taking effect. Parrott needed to collect a total of 55,737 signatures by June 30 in order for the measure to appear on the ballot in November. Opponents needed at least 18,579 signatures by May 31 for their campaign to continue.

Instead of using the formal name for the bill, Parrott chose to play to the fears of transphobic people by calling it “the Bathroom Bill.”

“As a parent, you should be able to send your children, your little girl, into the women’s bathroom and have the expectation that there will only be women or girls in that bathroom,” Parrott said April 29 when he announced his plans to launch the petition. “It opens the door for predators to take advantage of this bill. Predators will be able to go into the opposite gender bathroom, and proprietors would not be able to deny them access to that bathroom.”

Even if Parrott and his group had succeeded in getting enough signatures to force the measure onto the ballot in November, their chances at getting Maryland voters to overturn it at the polls would have been slim. As reported previously, a poll showed that 71 percent of Marylanders supported the bill.

“The majority of Marylanders believe that everyone should be treated fairly, including having the opportunity to work for a living, secure housing and get served lunch at a restaurant,” said Keith Thirion, Director of Advocacy and Programs for Equality Maryland.

The Free State became one of the first three states where voters approved a measure legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012. Maine and Washington were the other two states to do so.

Victories such as this one and places where the “will of the people” grant LGBT citizens full equality are the best possible rejoinder for opponents who scream that the majority is oppressed by court verdicts that throw out voter-approved bans on same-sex marriage. As suggested in my previous story about the Fairness For All Marylanders Act, “Maryland voters snub[bed] Parrot’s efforts at getting enough signatures to force the measure to the ballot box.”

Maryland joined 17 other states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico in adding gender identity and expression to their anti-discrimination laws. With Parrot’s efforts to force referendum unsuccessful, the new law takes effect in Maryland on Oct. 1.

So soon after Medicare ended its 33-year ban on covering gender reassignment surgery, this news provides much-needed momentum for transgender rights, but it also is a victory that should be celebrated by all Americans. It demonstrates that the tide has changed in favor of allowing people to live their lives the way they should.

It allows the country as a whole to move another step closer to living out its long ago pledge of liberty and justice for all.