MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll head now to Maryland and focus on barriers of a legal sort. Transgender people in the Old Line State can be fired from their jobs, denied housing, and barred from movie theaters, restaurants and other public accommodations because of their gender identity. But a bill working its way through the Maryland state senate would address that. At a rally earlier this week, Governor Martin O'Malley was among those who spoke about the bill.
GOV. MARTIN O'MALLY
I think regardless of political party, all of us can agree that in every person there is a human dignity. And we are called upon to treat every individual equally under the law.
Lauren Ober brings us the story.
MS. LAUREN OBER
Jennifer Fischetti remembers the day she was outed like it was yesterday.
MS. JENNIFER FISCHETTI
July 24th of 2004. I was out with some friends after work and -- late. We went to go get something to eat after the bars had closed. And there was a coworker of min sitting at the counter. And he looked at me and so I had to turn around and tell my friend that we needed to leave and I would explain when we got outside.
At the time, Fischetti was showing up to work as her biological gender -- male. But in her personal life, she lived as a woman. She walked a fine line with her gender expression and seeing a coworker out in the world was potentially dangerous.
He didn't know that I was transgender. Up until that point, I would present as a male for fear of things like losing my job and others.
As soon as the coworker realized who he had seen, he sent a torrent of text messages to everyone with whom he worked, exposing Fischetti as transgender. When Fischetti, who lives in Baltimore, returned to her job the following Monday, everyone knew. Then…
When I got there on Wednesday morning for a manager's meeting, before the meeting started another employee pulled me out, and took me to another room and terminated me.
Fischetti's manager suggested her work was "off," even though her performance reviews up to that point had been exemplary. Fischetti believes she was fired ostensibly for being transgender. And that termination was totally legal under current Maryland law. But it's something lawmakers are trying to address with a bill currently making its way through the state senate.
The Fairness for All Marylanders Act is sponsored by Sen. Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County and has the support of 22 co-sponsors. It would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Madaleno says this bill has been a long time coming.
SEN. RICHARD MADALENO
When Maryland added sexual orientation to our anti-discrimination law in 2001, we were the very last state to move forward with adding gays and lesbians without also including gender identity. And so now we're going back and trying to add gender identity, as we have for the last six years, trying to add gender identity.
A number of jurisdictions around the region already have these protections in place. In Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Hyattsville, Howard County and Montgomery County, as well as the District of Columbia, it's illegal to discriminate based on someone's gender identity. And in this case, gender identity means any way a person chooses to express gender, regardless of whether that person self-identifies as transgender.
Supporters of the bill say it's critical to curbing the kind of discrimination that people like Jennifer Fischetti have endured when trying to get jobs, housing, or even a meal in a restaurant.
MR. KEITH THIRION
This bill is incredibly necessary because trans people are facing discrimination in the very areas that are covered. Trans people are losing jobs because of being trans. The Fairness for All Marylanders Act is about providing the legal recourse to start addressing those instances.
Keith Thirion, of Equality Maryland, says part of the difficulty in getting previous iterations of this bill passed is a fundamental misunderstanding by some lawmakers about who transgender people are. And who they're not.
It's a misconception not recognizing that a trans person's gender identity is something that is deeply held. To transition is a process that one doesn't consider lightly.
Then there's the bathroom issue. Here's Senator Anthony Muse of Prince George's County, during a recent hearing on the anti-discrimination bill.
SEN. ANTHONY MUSE
Whether it's real or perceived, major or minor, here is an issue in the face of people. I get up and I go into a women's bathroom -- you're heard this, so you know where I'm going with this -- and someone walks in with a girl and I'm a man -- or at least in their opinion. I think that you're setting it up both ways for a dangerous situation.
Basically, what Muse was getting at is a question lawmakers often bring up in the face of gender identity nondiscrimination legislation. And that is, what happens if a man, posing as woman, assaults a woman in a restroom and claims he was allowed to be there because he's transgender? It's a hypothetical that advocates like Keith Thirion and supporters like Sen. Richard Madaleno have heard time and time again.
Madaleno responded to his colleague's concerns.
I would just point out, Senator, that these laws have been in place around this country and around our state for years, in some cases decades. That situation has not occurred.
Indeed, there have been no reported cases in jurisdictions that offer these protections of anyone claiming to be transgender in order to commit a crime. If that were ever the case, that anti-discrimination laws would never cover criminal activity. Trans people like Jennifer Fischetti say they simply want the same civil rights that their contemporaries enjoy. When Fischetti was outed and consequently fired, her worst fears reared up.
Getting a new job wasn't my biggest concern. My biggest concern was having my life end, literally. The stigma against transgender people was so severe that growing up -- for me -- I felt that if I was found out as being transgender that my only option was to commit suicide.
Fischetti survived the outing and the firing. And now she lives her life openly as a transgender woman. She went back to school and is studying public policy. And she hopes the next time she lands a job, she won't have to worry about whether her chosen gender will prevent her from keeping it. I'm Lauren Ober.
In a minute, breaking down the barriers that can keep low-income kids from succeeding at school.
MR. KEVIN HUDSON
If you haven't had a college-going experience at those types of institutions, it's hard to grasp what they may offer.
That's just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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