Recently, the Maryland Senate passed a bill banning discrimination based on gender identity and expression, a move aimed at helping to protect transgender individuals in employment, housing, and public spaces. The bill also includes protections based on sexual orientation and sexual identity.
The passage comes at time of increasing awareness about the discrimination gay, lesbian and transgender people face in the U.S. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans believe that gay, and lesbian individuals face a high amount of discrimination in America, while similar numbers (71 percent) say transgender people face significant discrimination.
Moreover, a growing understanding about sexual identity issues in general seems afoot. To wit, Facebook now offers a choice of more than 50 gender options users can display in their profiles, while transgender people are becoming increasingly prominent in the media.
The inclusion of such gender identity protections in non-discrimination bills has been a topic of conversation ever since the 2007 Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) dropping the gender identity protections clause from the bill in order to ensure its passage.
The bill later died in the Senate. Today, a new version of ENDA which includes protections for transgender individuals has passed the U.S. Senate, but appears to have lost momentum awaiting House approval.
Despite the widespread support for anti-discrimination legislation for LGBT individuals, such legislation still faces considerable hurdles at the federal level. For one, public pressure to pass this type of legislation is unlikely to be forthcoming, given that three quarters of Americans incorrectly believe that such non-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals are already in place. Second it is unlikely to rise to become a top tier issue in an election year that will likely focus primarily on the economy and the new health care law. What legislation is introduced and passed on this issue will likely remain the exclusive domain of the state and local level, at least for now.