President Donald Trump’s recent tweets targeting transgender service members and veterans made headlines. What received less coverage, however, was the more insidious move taken by the administration against gay and lesbian Americans: The Department of Justice took it upon itself to argue in court filings that federal employment discrimination protections do not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, these actions were not taken in isolation. From removing federal guidance that protected transgender students in schools; to abandoning federal lawsuits meant to expand lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights; to appointing a radically homophobic and transphobic official to a position of influence in a federal agency, this administration has shown itself more than willing to target the rights of LGBTQ Americans — 180,000 of whom are Marylanders, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Marylanders tend to see our state as an inclusive and accepting place. After all, we were the first state in the country to pass same-sex marriage in the legislature and by referendum. But perhaps we are not yet as progressive a state as we think. LGBTQ children and teens are particularly at risk here; just over 40 percent of kids experiencing homelessness in our state identify as LGBTQ, according to the Center for American Progress. Our children also continue to lack specific protections at the state level in our public schools. In Maryland, we have no ban on conversion therapy for children, the harmful and scientifically discredited practice of attempting to alter a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity; nine other states and the District of Columbia have prohibited this cruel practice.
And for same-sex couples, marriage equality was only a beginning. Family laws regarding a litany of issues including the recognition of parental rights for both partners, regardless of their biological relationship to the child, and inheritance need to be updated or changed for same-sex couples to have true equality.
It is no wonder, then, that despite the progress we have made, Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ rights advocacy organization, ranks 17 states ahead of Maryland on its most recent annual Equality Index, which measures how well state policies and legislation protect and affirm the rights of LGBTQ residents. While state and local activists already fought for and won many protections for the LGBTQ community in Maryland — including anti-discrimination protections in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity — there is still much work to be done.
Laws and policies alone won't end the bias, discrimination and violence that many LGBTQ people face. At FreeState Justice, where we provide free legal services for LGBTQ Marylanders with low or limited incomes, we receive more than 400 requests for legal assistance a year for issues stemming from discrimination in everything from housing to employment to health care. These are our children, our family, our neighbors and our friends. And too frequently, this discrimination comes in the form of violence. Within the past few years, Alphonza Watson, Keyonna Blakeney, and Zella Ziona, all transgender women of color, were murdered in Maryland. Just a few weeks ago, a transgender woman of color was shot in the face with a BB gun in Baltimore City. The police are investigating it as a hate crime.
If we want Maryland to truly live up to our nickname as the “Free State,” we cannot aim our fight at D.C. alone. We need to fight at the White House and in the Maryland State House. We need to fight on Capitol Hill and in county seats and in city and town halls in every corner of our state. We must fight like lives depend on it, because for so many in our community, they do.
Mark Procopio (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of FreeState Justice, which provides legal services for LGBTQ residents with low or limited incomes across Maryland and advocates for systemic solution that improve the lives of all LGBTQ Marylanders. FreeState Justice was formed in 2016 from the merger of FreeState Legal Project and Equality Maryland.