Voting rights challenged in ‘coed showers’ lawsuit

By Bob Unruh

A law firm advocating the “right to hear and speak the truth” is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit brought by a homosexual activist group after Maryland County, Md., certified a citizens’ petition that would allow voters to decide this fall the fate of a “coed showers” plan.

The motion to intervene was filed this week by lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund who want to help the county defend the certification of the petition signatures.

“In America, every citizen’s voice counts. The signatures on these petitions are valid, so these citizens should not be denied the right to have their vote count in an important referendum,” said Austin R. Nimocks, a senior legal counsel with ADF. “In Maryland, the people are the ultimate legislative authority and they must be heard.”

WND reported earlier that the Montgomery County Board of Elections had certified a petition assembled by Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government and it would be placed on the November election ballot.

The petition seeks to reverse a county law adopted in recent months that aims to “protect” transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and various services. Critics say instead it would virtually eliminate the ability of businesses, clubs or anyone providing a “public facility” to prevent men from entering women’s showers, and vice versa.

At the time the county confirmed enough signatures had been validated, Ruth Jacobs, president of MCRG, said her organization had learned from voters “across every political and demographic line”‘ the county council was “out of step” on the issue.

The certification put the law on hold until the fall election.

Only days later, however, Equality Maryland, which describes itself as the state’s largest LGBT organization, filed a lawsuit claiming that petition supporters “violated election law in a number of ways.”

“Subjecting our transgender brothers and sisters in the county to a public campaign of inflammatory and malicious statements, followed by a popular vote on their civil rights, would devastate a group of people already subjected to alarming rates of discrimination and violence,” group spokesman Dan Furmansky said when the action was filed.

At issue is Bill 23-07 which was sponsored by county council member Duchy Trachtenberg, D-At Large, and adds “gender identity” to the county’s list of specially protected classes of people against whom discrimination is banned.

The Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government has argued the law 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 group further argued the law could violate the privacy rights of the county’s 500,000 women and children 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.

Since 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 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.

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 council, noted that the petition “contained more than the requisite number of signatures necessary to place the question on the 2008 General Election ballot.” The minimum number had been set by the county at 25,001.

The allegations of inappropriate actions on the part of the petition collectors are ironic, since just days before the certification, there were 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 Trachtenberg, 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 earlier 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.

“No evidence has been presented to show that any of the signatures are invalid or that these registered voters should not take part in the democratic process,” Nimocks said. “The political agenda of an activist group cannot be allowed to disenfranchise the voters of an entire county. The referendum simply allows the people of Montgomery County to decide the issue, but apparently Equality Maryland doesn’t want the people to be heard.”