Maryland still needs Equality Maryland

Alarming news came recently when Equality Maryland announced that it may have to scale back or cease operations as funding fell following the Supreme Court marriage equality victory last month. Alarming, because Equality Maryland’s work isn’t done—it still has a profoundly important mission

/By Matthew Snider/ Alarming news came recently when Equality Maryland announced that it may have to scale back or cease operations as funding fell following the Supreme Court marriage equality victory last month. Alarming, because Equality Maryland’s work isn’t done—it still has a profoundly important mission, not only in the state but as part of a broader coalition dedicated to guaranteeing that LGBT Marylanders’ interests and perspectives are taken into consideration in state level decisionmaking.

If marriage was the only goal of the LGBT movement, it would have run out of steam long before now. The LGBT community is hardly monolithic and belonging to it certainly doesn’t guarantee one stance on the issues (just ask the Log Cabin Republicans), but it does equip people with a valuable perspective that needs to be a part of the dialogue on how to make Maryland an even greater state. There is still important work to do even in a state as “blue” as Maryland, and Equality Maryland is in the best position to do it. A more aware judiciary, a more diverse group of national office-holders, and the vulnerability of young Marylanders are all areas where there is more to be done.

Judicial Appointments:

Maryland’s judicial retirement age remains 70, despite efforts this session to raise it. On the state’s highest court, Judges Battaglia and Harnell will be compelled to retire within the year. On the intermediate appellate court, Judges Peter Krauser, Patrick Woodward, and Robert Zarnoch are all within 1-3 years of mandatory retirement.

In 2013, Mark Scurti was appointed by Gov. O’Malley to the District Court for Baltimore City. Our community should continue to push for the appointment of LGBT judges to some of the highest courts in the state. Although gay marriage is legal, and workplace discrimination is banned, other cases affecting LGBT Marylanders will continue to arise in the court system. None of this is to suggest that non-LGBT judges can’t administer the law with thoughtful consideration to cases affecting the community. But there remains a wisdom that comes from different backgrounds and perspectives and a diverse bench is essential to administering justice.

National Office-holders:

At the state and local level, LGBT candidates have shown success but Maryland needs more LGBT national office-holders. Twelve candidates have declared their intent to seek the seats being vacated by Reps. Edwards and Van Hollen. Several others have expressed interest in the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Mikulski (including openly gay Republican Chrys Kefalas). Senator Mikulski, Reps. Edwards and Van Hollen have advocated for laws protecting LGBT Americans and Marylanders, and there’s every likelihood that the best candidate to replace each isn’t LGBT. But the Maryland gay and lesbian community needs to be a part of the dialogue in Washington and have the confidence to throw their hats into the ring. As they have been for years, Equality Maryland can be the organizing force to guarantee that LGBT citizens get off the sidelines and engage.

Bullying:

The bullying of LGBT youth is no more (and no less) heartbreaking than that of non-LGBT youth, but with all the success the community has seen lately, we would be remiss to overlook the struggles that our most vulnerable members continue to face. Only last November, GLSEN released a report documenting bullying, unsupportive faculty, and hostile climates for many students across the nation and in Maryland.

Equality Maryland has an indispensible role to play in helping guarantee that young gay, lesbian, and transgendered students feel safe and secure in their learning environment. Without that guarantee, it’s almost certain their educational success will suffer, as well as their emotional health and possibly worse.

 These may not be the sexy, glamorous battles like the fight to marry our loved ones, but they are vital to protecting a community whose equality is still new and tenuous. Beyond the three issues mentioned above, the Human Rights Campaign recently pointed to other areas where Maryland needs hard work and resources: combating LGBT homelessness, passing non-discrimination laws in education, and passing jury selection discrimination protections. Until these fights are behind us, LGBT Marylanders will never be fully equal to non-LGBT citizens; and until then, Maryland still needs Equality Maryland