That’s certainly an understatement. However, to paraphrase the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Laws cannot force people to think, but they can restrain the thoughtless.
Such laws, unfortunately, are necessary. We reported here on the final, failed attempt to repeal Montgomery County’s new non-discrimination law (really just gender identity language added to a law that’s been in effect for twenty years). It’s over; the law is now in effect, nearly a year after it was unanimously adopted. This Washington Post article does a good, matter-of-fact job of explaining why the language was needed. Discrimination hurts people and it’s wrong, that’s why – but a lot of people still don’t understand what that discrimination entails.
To Allyson Robinson, it means accompanying her young children to public restrooms in Montgomery County without worrying that someone will call the police.
For Colleen Fay, it brings the hope that the next time she applies for a driver’s license she won’t be badgered about her previous life as a man.
And for Chloe Schwenke, it means other people like her will be able to enjoy the job security she has found in her international development work in the District.
We won’t know for some time the reasoning of the court, but those familiar with the case predict that it will be on the basis of flawed instructions from the Board of Elections. This in itself is important, because it clarifies the rules for future referendum campaigns. Had this petition been allowed to go forward it would have set an absurd catch-22 precedent for any party who would challenge the validity of a future petition.
That being said, it’s unfortunate that (assuming this turns out to be the case) this referendum wasn’t thrown out because of the improper and unethical way that signatures were collected. I spent a couple of days volunteering with Basic Rights Montgomery, checking signatures against the voter database and looking for other irregularities and violations (this is what the BoE was supposed to do, but they only checked voter registration status). Had it not been for this volunteer effort, the referendum proponents (from this point on referred to as “the showerheads” for reasons that will soon become clear) would have been allowed to get away with out-and-out fraud. The most egregious violations were things like sheets with some or all signatures in the same handwriting, and sheets that were witnessed by the same person who gathered the signatures. There were many other irregularities, but those are the ones that most clearly indicate a pattern of falsification. Given that the BoE was willing to certify petitions this flawed, one commenter noted sarcastically that future signature collectors could reasonably cut corners by copying random names out of the phone book.
And as bad as the high rate of invalid signatures is, that’s not even the worst thing about what the showerheads did. It is a violation of Maryland code to misrepresent a referendum question in order to solicit signatures. If the showerheads wanted to get people to sign their petition, they really had no choice but to misrepresent the question; they couldn’t very well expect people to agree with them that one group of people deserves to be singled out for legal discrimination. So they lied. They were observed countless times telling people that the law would give sexual predators access to ladies’ restrooms and locker rooms to prey on women and children. They told people that the law would require that all public restrooms in the county be unisex. They told people that the law would force churches to perform marriages that violate their beliefs. They told people that a woman seeking to share private housing could be “forced to share a bedroom with a male transvestite (sic).” They told people that transgender people are sexual deviants, and are likely to be diseased, drug addicts, and/or prostitutes. They told people that there had been no public hearings on the law. None of these claims, of course, is remotely true – but these are not people who allow facts to get in the way of their pursuit of special rights.
Put yourself in the place of the average person, who knew nothing about this “controversy.” I would support a petition that I thought was going to protect women and children from sexual predators – wouldn’t you? So, the showerheads were able to stand out in front of the neighborhood Giant with clipboards, and get people to sign their petition by telling them this.
Except in the presence of people who knew what was actually going on. That turned out to be a big problem for the showerheads.
Every time word got out that showerheads were out in front of the neighborhood Giant or whatnot with their clipboards, people would go down there and join the conversation. They would explain what the law actually said, and what it means, and why it’s needed. And nine out of ten people who heard that information would decline to sign. Maybe the tenth person agreed with the showerheads that transgender people shouldn’t exist and should be discouraged from existing by any means possible, I don’t know. But this is the take-away: It doesn’t take many people to make a difference. If that small handful of Good Samaritans had not done what they did, just showing up and calmly telling people the truth, those people would not have known any better and likely would have signed the petition. That, despite all the petition irregularities and evidence of fraud, could have meant that the question would be on the ballot in November. As much as that would have provided an opportunity to do valuable education, I’m more relieved that folks won’t have to be subjected to the kind of ugly smear campaign that the showerheads would have carried out under national Anti-Gay Industry direction and funding. We’ve seen enough of their murderous propaganda already.
There was a nice celebration of the victory Friday night, where I got to meet some of the people I had previously only known online. The dedication, kindness and patience of these folks can’t be overstated. They have reached out to their opponents, in particular Dr. Dana Beyer, legislative aide to the County Councilwoman who introduced the bill. Dr. Beyer has repeatedly invited the leaders of the little showerhead group to meet with her. There have been many attempts to educate them about the law and about actual transgender people, in writing and in person. Members of the transgender community have gone above and beyond to show kindness and sympathy, even congratulating these activists for being willing to stand up for their beliefs, misguided and ignorance-based as they are. As I said, this is the end of the line for this referendum attempt. No more appeals are possible….and yet, there were the showerheads this past weekend, at the neighborhood Giant with clipboards, collecting more signatures. Jim Kennedy from Teach the Facts went down there and took some pictures. The sign they had up reads “Referendum in Progress,” and also some nonsense about “public showers and restrooms” and “standards of decency” and “public safety,” among other things unrelated to Montgomery County’s non-discrimination law. The speculation is that they are continuing to collect information for an AGI database. It’s not clear whether this activity is legal; since their claim is that the signatures are being collected for a non-existent referendum, they are doing it under false pretenses.
So – after every effort has been made to reach out to these people, and educate them so that whatever fears they may have can be allayed, and after they were told by Maryland’s highest court that this fight is over – they are doing exactly the same thing, expecting a different result. One of the commenters on Jim’s blog offered that “at least we know this: The showerheads are not adjustable.”
Jim is also doing a good job reporting on the most comically enraged AGI reactions to the ruling, such gems as: A law requiring “mandatory co-ed showers” went into effect because “there were not enough signatures on the referendum petitions to represent dead voters;” and “Sexual deviants given green light” in spite of “900,000 petition signers” (the entire population of Montgomery County is about one million, counting children).
I’m just at a loss here. These folks desperately need professional help, but how can they get it when they believe the “problem” is everyone but them?