January 23, 2012
By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director
All of us who have worked long and hard for equality under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people know how strangely eager some people are to twist and distort the truth about us and our lives. Their ultimate goal? To dissuade public officials from passing laws to end discrimination. I won’t even dignify the ugliest things they say by repeating them, but you know what I am talking about. Our opponents also make sweeping claims about what terrible things will happen if laws are changed to protect us from the bias and discrimination of others. Often their assertions are rhetorical, but sometimes they are so direct they can be squarely disproved.
And that is exactly what happened in Maryland last week, where a police chief caught anti-lgbt activists lying, and news of same went public in The Baltimore Sun.
It all started because Baltimore County Bill No. 3-12 was introduced in early 2012 by Councilmembers Quirk, Almond, Bevins and Oliver. This bill is a basic civil rights ordinance that, if passed, will bar discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, and places of public accommodation or financing. It will add these categories, clearly defined, to a list of protected classes that already exist in the county code. Bill No. 3-12 is similar to ordinances already in place in Montgomery County, Baltimore City, and Howard County. It is a precursor to a statewide bill anticipated this session that will propose to ban discrimination against transgender people; that bill would mirror legal protections already in place on the basis of other protected characteristics, including sexual orientation.
In their zeal to oppose this proposed ordinance, a few women went too far, well beyond the truth. Religious political extremist Ruth Jacobs stated: “It opens up the bathroom to men … who may be a pedophile who may use the law to nefarious advantage.” Anita Schatz followed Jacobs’ lead and posted this on Facebook to encourage people opposed to the proposed Baltimore County ordinance to come testify against it: “Since Montgomery County passed a similar bill, there have been 4 rapes by men, dressing as women lying in wait for their victims in ladies rooms.” (By the way, Schatz lists her employer as Congressman Andy Harris, a Republican representing Maryland’s District 1). Another opponent forwarded the Facebook post to Gender Right Maryland in a jab that backfired—Gender Rights Maryland forwarded Schatz’ specific allegation to officials in Montgomery County.
On January 17, two things happened.
An initial hearing was held on the ordinance, with several people testifying about the very real problems of discrimination that transgender people face. Others, including Ms. Schatz, appeared to testify against the measure, attempting to create restroom hysteria.
Thankfully, the very same day, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger wrote directly to lead ordinance sponsor Councilmember Tom Quirk. His letter read:
Dear Councilmember Quirk:
I am writing to clarify information that has been brought to my attention alleged sexual assaults in Montgomery County. It was brought to my attention that there is an allegation stating that since the Transgender Law was passed in our county we have experienced four (4) rapes by men dressing as women and lying in wait for their victims in ladies restrooms.
The Transgender Bill was passed by the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday, November 13, 2007, and it became law shortly thereafter. Since this law has been in effect, we have had no reported rapes committed in restrooms by men dressed in women’s clothing.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions.
J. Thomas Manger
[Montgomery County] Chief of Police
The next day, the Baltimore Sun picked up the story about Schatz’ lie.
As we lawyers like to say, “Asked and answered.”
But it didn’t stop there. Here, for those interested in how the story spun out, is a video of Keith Olberman naming Ruth Jacobs one of the “Worst Persons” and calling her an “idiot” for her arguments attacking trans people with regard to bathrooms in Baltimore County, Maryland.
What’s next? Ideally we keep on track to pass the laws LGBT people need. A full hearing on the Baltimore County ordinance will be held on February 14, 2012, where we are optimistic that accurate information will be presented and hold sway and that credible evidence will be demanded to substantiate allegations made by those who sound Schatz-ish.
In partnership with Gender Rights Maryland, PFLAG and many other national, state and local groups, I will be there for the National Center for Lesbian Rights to testify that the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association all support the passage of laws to protect transgender people as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination. I will be substantiating my oral testimony with copies of the statements from all of these associations stapled to my written copy to distribute to all councilmembers.
Later this legislative session in Annapolis, senators and delegates will have a chance to vote on a statewide bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity, a measure that is still-needed and more than a decade overdue.