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BY COLUMNISTS

| Joe Charlebois | Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Norman M. Covert | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Tom McLaughlin | Patricia Price | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. |

DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


March 5, 2007

General Assembly Journal 2007 - Volume 7

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The House Health and Government Operations Committee held a hearing on House Bill 945, which adds anti-discrimination provisions to the Maryland Annotated Code for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Let me start this by saying that I am profoundly saddened by the complexity of a life lived on the path these folks feel was thrust upon them. Someone less worried about living challenged lives would either snicker or chuckle when a 6-foot tall blond dressed to the nines leans into the microphone and addresses the committee in a booming baritone voice, a few octaves lower than my own.

I find no cause for humor, no reason to find mirth in this misery. We had testimony from people who had undergone sex changes and those who just felt more comfortable dressing and functioning in a manner that more closely reflects how they perceive themselves.

The one inescapable observation is the sadness inherent in their presentations. Admittedly, they share their saddest stories with the committee, recounting nightmarish examples of discrimination, physical violence, even murder. For the transsexual/transgender community, these occurrences seem more frequent than I thought they were.

If their lives were all roses and picnics, it might be tough to argue for added legal protections. It would be unrealistic to expect them to come in and testify how easy their lives are.

Unlike most of the testimony offered before my committee, much of which is either mind-numbingly technical or edge-of-the-seat interesting, this was very uncomfortable and odd. Of the five people we heard from on this bill, four were born as men, one was born a woman. They shared a common sadness that causes one to speculate as to how pervasive that sadness really is.

No one can counter the claim that the life these people live is difficult, and that they find themselves the subject of negative attention and behavior that most would agree is discriminatory and inappropriate.

The larger question is whether that conduct warrants the intervention of the General Assembly, and changes in the Maryland Annotated Code to protect these people from acts of discrimination.

In order to determine that legislative intervention was necessary, it appears that a legislator must find that:

  1. That the person - who determines that their birth sex is not an accurate representation of who they are - must have no choice or reasonable say in the matter; and

  2. There are substantial similarities between the other categories of "protected classes," like skin color, gender, and disability.

Committee members were not qualified to offer a psychological assessment to differentiate between a matter of choice and a matter of inherited behavior. The studies suggest some conflict within the scientific community on this very question.

By comparison, an African-American, Native American, Hispanic, or Oriental person has absolutely no control over their skin tone, race, or cultural background. Likewise, a person, who is either born with a handicap or acquires a physically limiting condition in their lifetime, has no control over the conditions that creates their need for protection from discrimination.

That same claim cannot be made about the people testifying that because they no longer acknowledge their birth sex, they deserve protections in the Annotated Code.

To be fair, the folks who testified last Wednesday definitely believe that they were born with wrong equipment. They have felt, many from a relatively early age, that they were trapped in a body that does not allow them to live a normal life.

One wonders where this striving for legislative protection would end. First, racial and gender protection were enacted. There was an indisputable body of evidence that employers were discriminating against women and people of color. These are very obvious and embraced by rational-thinkers on both sides of the aisle.

Then came the protections for the disabled. Again, the state code should protect people who have difficulty protecting themselves. The addition of newer classes, including gender identity and expression, might threaten to water down historical protections that have served an important purpose throughout our history.

The larger question for us to ponder is whether someone would choose a lifestyle that is as difficult and dangerous as that lived by a transgender or transsexual person. It just doesn't seem to me that anyone would make that choice, although there are a number of psychological circumstances that defy explanation.

And if the answer to that question is that no rational person would choose to live under that circumstance, then does that suggest that the protections might be necessary?

If you were a delegate, and this question was before you, what would you do? I'd love to hear from you; so, send me an email at Richard_Weldon@house.state.md.us.



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