Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lobby Day Draws Statewide Activists, Politicans

LGBT, allies push for transgender equality; oppose marriage amendment

By Steve Charing

ANNAPOLIS—A couple of hundred lgbt activists from all over the state braved the brisk, misty air to attend Equality Maryland’s 4th annual Lobby Day on February 12. The crowd, while significantly smaller than at previous Lobby Day rallies at Lawyers Mall, was enthusiastic and vociferous and represented a broad segment of Maryland’s lgbt community and its allies.

"We want to show the legislature that we have wide and diverse support for lgbt equality," Sara Ryan, Equality Maryland’s field organizer told Baltimore OUTloud. "We have here gay and straight people, people of faith, non-religious people, union, non-union, all kinds of people."

Gita Deane and Lisa Polyak, two of the original plaintiffs in the Deane and Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit, emceed the rally. The lawsuit is challenging Maryland’s 1973 marriage law that restricts the definition of marriage to be one man and woman and is currently under deliberation by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Dr. Dana Beyer, a transgendered person who unsuccessfully ran for the House of Delegates, set the tone by arguing for transgender equality. She offered examples of how transgendered individuals are discriminated against; how she—a physician—could lose her job; and how the transgendered are often victims of violence and hate. One of Equality Maryland’s main legislative initiatives this General Assembly will be to add transgendered individuals to the state’s anti-discrimination law.

Delegate Victor Ramirez, a Prince Georges Democrat further fired up the crowd. "[Marriage equality] is a critical issue for all of us, not just some," he exhorted. "This will define us as a state." Del. Ramirez, a strong advocate for immigration rights added, "To those who bring us issues to divide us—shame on you!" He plans to champion a pro-marriage bill in the House of Delegates.

Senator Gwendolyn Britt, another Democrat from Prince Georges County was next by relating the struggle for lgbt equality to that of the civil rights movement. She was a major activist against segregation, having been jailed for her protests.

According to a statement from Equality Maryland, "if the high court in Maryland does not unequivocally rule to end discrimination in civil marriage, [Sen. Britt] will sponsor and shepherd a marriage equality bill in the Maryland Senate."

"I fought against segregation, and I’m equality compelled to speak out for your equal rights in Maryland and in the U.S.," she said to the cheering crowd. "For civil marriage, the time is now."

Other speakers included Fred Mason, Executive Director, Metro DC AFL-CIO with son, Fred Mason III and his son's husband, Philip Lovett. Pro-gay equality supporters in the legislature were sighted at the event, including Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), the highest elected openly gay person in the state and Del. Elizabeth Bobo (D-Columbia).

A few in the crowd complained that neither Governor O’Malley nor Lt. Governor Brown was present at the rally, which would have signaled a new pro-gay rights climate in Annapolis. However, Equality Maryland’s Sara Ryan confirmed to OUTloud that they had not been invited.
During and after the rally, groups of lgbt folks, supporters, friends and families proceeded to visit with their district delegates and senators. They pressed for an end to transgender discrimination, promoted domestic partner benefits for state employees and other initiatives to ease some financial burdens on Maryland’s lgbt citizens. In addition, they sought to avert yet another attempt by both houses in the General Assembly to amend the state’s constitution that would permanently confine marriage to one man and one woman.

People presented their personal stories to legislators, which always seems to be the most effective strategy. One transgendered person told a receptive delegate of being homeless because she was transgendered. Another teenager said he had hugged his brother who attended the same school and the other kids taunted them with anti-gay jeers.

And in a touching moment, a young married woman explained to a senator how she was raised by her biological father and his male partner since she had been very young and brought in family photographs to show how stable and beneficial her upbringing was.

Some seemed moved by these and other stories; others, such as Gail Bates (R-Howard County) was reported to have said she is "never going to change her mind."

Lobby Day is an important event and may be critical this year. A decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals on the marriage lawsuit is imminent and has the potential for driving the political agenda during this and future General Assembly sessions. Bills that will enshrine discrimination into the state’s constitution have been filed and will be considered by lawmakers.

Despite the clear need to advance pro-lgbt causes, the crowd turnout was disappointing. Many more signed up with Equality Maryland than showed up, which could be explained by the chilly weather and looming forecast. One observer quipped, "I would have been happier if all the gays who attended ‘Wicked’ showed up today. It would have been some rally!"

Even if you did not attend, you can still express your views to your legislators. Visit www.equalitymaryland.org to find out how.

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