A group in Montgomery County, Md., seeking a public vote on a law providing special rights to people with “gender identity” issues has posted a video on YouTube of an aide to a county council member apparently trying to intimidate volunteers collecting petition signatures in support of that vote.
At the time, volunteers had reported to the organization they had been subjected to harassment by those supporting the county law that has been interpreted to mean the county is ordering all “public facilities” be open to either men or women, based on their own perceived gender.
Officials then told WND Dana Beyer, a senior policy adviser to Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg, D-At Large, had approached volunteers while they were seeking petition signatures and provided disruptions, “telling volunteers to ‘shut up’ and getting petition collectors removed from shopping malls by complaining to the management.”
John Garza, an attorney for the volunteers, indicated one possible result could be a civil rights lawsuit.
“I am deeply troubled by these intimidation tactics. Such tactics are commonly used by totalitarian governments. There is no place for this in Montgomery County. This undemocratic conduct is especially reprehensible when it is coming from a senior-level employee of the council,” he said at the time.
Today the organization released a statement accompanying a YouTube video officials explained shows Beyer falsely telling petition collectors and would-be signers they would be asked to leave a Giant food store’s sidewalk.
The video shows the person telling volunteers, “An e-mail went out; you’re going to be asked to leave. Any petitions gathered today are illegal.”
Officials with Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government said the incident happened in Bethesda, Md.
“Petition collectors were gather signature at the Westwood Shopping Center in Bethesda last Monday. A volunteer for the group took the video as Beyer approached their table. When Beyer realized the incident was being videoed, Beyer quickly left the scene,” the organization said.
Trachtenberg told WND she had not seen the video and would not comment immediately.
But the citizens organization said a call to Giant corporate headquarters revealed no such e-mail had gone out.
“A spokeswoman for the company said the only e-mail she was aware of regarding the petition drive was the one granting permission to Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government to collect signatures in front of its stores,” the group said.
The group said it had heard reports that Beyer and others “went around the county, blocking access to the petitioners, yelling invectives at them, arguing with would-be signers, and then complaining to management that the petitioners were causing a disturbance or had no right to be there.”
Beyer is quoted in the weekly Montgomery County Sentinel as saying, “In all but one place we talked to the management of these grocery stores and the management had them removed.”
Beyer continued, “He [the one manager] was wrong, but we couldn’t convince him of that.”
Retta Brown, who was gathering signatures, said another advocate for transgender “rights,” Marianne Arnow, confronted her.
“Marianne said she was there to educate me on transgender issues, and I said I was busy and didn’t have time. But she followed me around and insisted,” Brown said. “This guy dressed as a woman just walks in and decides he’s going to educate me. Then as I’m talking to someone about signing, Marianne starts shouting, ‘Shut up! Shut up!” right in their face. I had people say to me, if this is what they’re like, I’m signing the petition.”
“This conduct by Beyer and others is highly unethical and violates the public trust as well as Federal and state civil rights statutes,” Garza said.
CRG also noted it violates the county code that prohibits an employee from interfering in the political activities of citizens.
The organization said another incident happened when Beyer visited Rockshire Village Center in Rockville, and ordered residents Sabiha and Dan Zubairi not to sign the petition, CRG said.
“You know what’s going to happen to you if you sign this petition? You are going to be all over the Internet,” CRG reported Beyer said.
“Are you threatening me?” Zubairi asked, according to CRG, which reported Beyer then left the area.
The petition drive collected a total of 32,000 signatures, officials said, of which at least 25,001 need to be verified for the issue to be put on the 2008 election ballot.
“The ease with which the signatures have been obtained, despite the intimidation of the voters by council staff, demonstrates how isolated the council is from its constituents,” said Ruth Jacobs, president of CRG.
The new county law states, “Gender identity means an individual’s actual or perceived gender including a person’s gender-related appearance, expression, image, identity or behavior, whether or not those gender-related characteristics differ from the characteristics customarily associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.” It then prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity.
The law, when being proposed, at one point included a specific exemption for facilities such as locker rooms, but it was deliberately removed before adoption. A county spokesman earlier told WND that he didn’t think it necessary to state such issues specifically.
Jacobs earlier had a testy exchange with County Executive Isiah Leggett, who signed the controversial plan into law.
She had asked for the county to reconsider the bill, and he responded by demanding she “state the facts.”
It was his opinion that the law would exclude restrooms and locker rooms from its inclusive “public accommodations,” even though that is not specified, and in fact is not allowed in other portions of the county’s anti-discrimination policies.
Leggett said those concerns are no more than misrepresentations, because both he and the county council have articulated the view that such facilities are not included.
“Your reading of the terms of the bill is in error. If you are in disagreement with this, that is your right,” he told Jacobs. “However, you have an obligation to state the facts.”
So Susan Jamison, a lawyer for the citizens’ group, weighed in.
“With all due respect Mr. Leggett, it is important that we clarify exactly what the issues and risks here truly are. Your assertion that Dr. Jacobs is in error when she contends that there are serious locker room and restroom issues – is simply unfounded.
“The truth is that, unless our referendum effort is successful, any transgender could enforce his rights under this law in a court of law … and, relying on the plain reading of the statute, obtain entry into female locker rooms and restrooms with little to stop him or the many who would follow,” she wrote.
She cited the “plain wording” that those providing “public accommodations” cannot discriminate based on race, religion “and now ‘gender identity.'”
For Leggett’s interpretation to be valid, she noted, the county also would have to be allowed to exclude such facilities from other anti-discrimination regulations, meaning people could be subjected to discrimination based on religion or race in those locations.