A recently passed Maryland county law that critics say allows men and women to mix in restrooms and locker rooms has been put on hold until it goes before voters this fall.
Officials with Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government say the Montgomery County Board of Elections has certified their petition issue to appear on the November election ballot.
The law aims to protect transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and various services.
“We are delighted that the board has validated our petition, containing the signatures of over 32,000 citizens,” said Ruth Jacobs, president of MCRG. “We have gotten the sense from talking to thousands of voters across every political and demographic line that the council is really out of step on this one.”
The volunteer organization needed 25,001 signatures to succeed.
MCRG argues the law “loosely” defines gender identity as “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.”
“This means that a male appearing as or perceiving he is a female, regardless of his DNA, anatomy, and chromosomal makeup, could gain the legal right to call himself a woman, and use the woman’s facility in any public accommodation,” the group said.
The law could violate the privacy rights of the county’s 500,000 women and children, the MCRG asserted, since the county’s public accommodations code would be revised to read:
“An … agent … of any place of public accommodation in the county must not, with respect to the accommodation: … make any distinction with respect to … race, color, sex, marital status, religious creed, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity in connection with … use of any facility…,” the organization said.
The volunteers said accommodations already are defined in the code as “restaurants, hotels and motels, retail stores, hospitals, swimming pools,” and “facilities” include “restrooms and locker rooms.”
The only place that would be excluded, MCRG said, would be areas that are “distinctly personal and private,” such as private homes and private clubs.
County officials have told WND they have interpreted the law to mean that showers and restrooms would be excluded.
But Theresa Rickman, a founding MCRG member, argues, “With all due respect, if one accepts the council’s assertion that the ‘gender identity’ law does not cover bathrooms, one would also have to accept that the county’s public accommodations code never intended to racially desegregate bathrooms. Race and gender identity are both listed in the same sentence.”
The county’s Human Rights Commission has authority to interpret and enforce the law, and it already has stated “if Bill 23-07 were silent on the issue of public facilities, [it] would interpret the bill as allowing a person to use facilities based on that person’s gender identity.”
The bill also contains no exemptions for religious organizations, daycare providers and teachers and small businesses, opponents said. The critics contend schools and business would be required to let employees cross-dress if they choose.
“Please be advised that the petition contained more than the requisite number of signatures necessary to place the question on the 2008 General Election ballot. … The petition has also been reviewed to determine whether it meets the requirements contained in [Maryland election law]. … Please be advised that the petition appears to meet the necessary requirements,” said a letter from County Election Director Margaret Jurgensen to County Executive Isiah Leggett, who signed the bill into law after it was approved by the county council.
Just days earlier, WND reported allegations from petition collecters that they had been harassed while they were gathering signatures.
Officials with MCRG reported 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.
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.”
MCRG officials said the incident took place in Bethesda, Md.
“Petition collectors were gathering signatures 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.
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 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, MCRG said.
“You know what’s going to happen to you if you sign this petition? You are going to be all over the Internet,” MCRG reported Beyer said.
“Are you threatening me?” Zubairi asked, according to MCRG, which reported Beyer then left the area.
The law, when proposed, at one point included a specific exemption for facilities such as locker rooms, but it was deliberately removed before adoption. A county spokesman previously told WND he didn’t think it necessary to specify such issues.