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Transgender Marylanders gain employment rights

Last week, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a bill that extends employment rights to transgender residents in Maryland. The Fairness for All Marylanders Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants on the basis of their expression of gender or gender identity. The bill also applies in housing, public accommodations and credit.

Many people may be aware that Baltimore City and Baltimore County, as well as several other counties, already have similar employment regulations in place. So, about half of Maryland's population already has such anti-discrimination protections. This bill will provide the protections to transgender people throughout the rest of the state when it goes into effect in October.

While the bill has been lauded by workers' advocacy and transgender rights organizations, it is still controversial. Opponents are working to collect enough signatures to place a repeal referendum on the November ballot.

One argument of opponents is that the bill offers a tool to sexual predators; they argue that predators could go into women's restrooms under the guise of being transgender in order to attack women and girls. The counterpoint is that sexual assault remains illegal.

It remains to be seen whether Marylanders will be asked to vote on a referendum, or how they would vote. One poll shows that more than 70 percent of Maryland residents support the addition of gender identity to the classes that are protected under discrimination laws.

As it stands, many Marylanders do live in counties where gender identity is essentially a protected class. Those who are discriminated against in employment on the basis of their expression of gender--or on the basis of other protected classes, such as race, religion or sex--may have the right to seek justice by filing a discrimination claim.

Source: Metro Weekly, "O'Malley Signs Transgender Rights Bill," John Riley, May 20, 2014

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