Monday, March 3, 2014

The Fairness for all Marylanders Act 2014, My Testimony

My dear dragon suggested that I share my testimony that I submitted in writing to be shared with the Maryland House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee, which will have a hearing on the bill Wednesday March 5, 2014, Ash Wednesday. The chances are looking very promising that the bill will pass in Maryland this year, providing much needed protections for transgender and gender non conforming people in the state.

Here it is:

March 3, 2014

Dear Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee:

I write to you as an almost lifetime resident of the great state of Maryland, having spent about 39 of my 43 years living in Montgomery or Baltimore Counties.  My few years apart from Maryland landed me in an apartment in Washington, DC, less than 1 mile from the state border at downtown Silver Spring.  To say that I am deeply a part of the fabric of Maryland life is an understatement, as I am able to trace my ancestry on my father’s side back to the 18th century in Montgomery County.  There is even a street in Montgomery County named for one of my ancestors, who migrated to the farmland of Maryland from Ireland at a time where the Irish ‘need not apply,’ and yet he found a refuge in Maryland.  In addition, I’ve been blessed to have received most of my education from Maryland public schools, having attended Montgomery County Public Schools from Head Start through High School graduation, and attending Montgomery College and The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where I graduated cum laude in 2004.  This exemplary education allowed me to earn 2 graduate degrees from The George Washington University, as well.

I mention this at length to show that in spite of my educational background provided to me by a public educational system consistently ranked as the best in the United States, I still struggle to find employment that provides a living wage, let alone a wage that is commensurate with my educational attainments.  This happens not because of my credentials or my skills, but because of how I look.  I have no problem finding employment in the low paying service sector, where my intelligence, empathy, and dedication have served pet owners and book lovers well in my many years of retail/pet care employment, and my appearance means little in these industries that struggle to locate and retain good employees.  However, I have had little luck in cracking the white collar world, despite one undergraduate and two graduate degrees. 

As a gender nonconforming individual, my appearance is the only thing that sets me apart from my better employed and compensated peers from high school and college.  My partner, who is transgender and comes from a similar background of educational excellence in Massachusetts, is in the same predicament, and has been so for years.  I was sure that returning to school to earn college degrees, as has been suggested as the best way to adapt to the current lengthy economic downturn, would be able to lift me out of my working class existence and allow me to earn a living wage.  This has not been the case.  In fact, now I am almost $50,000 in debt, unemployed, and living off the generosity of my retired, disabled mother.  I fear that because of the discrimination that transgender and gender nonconforming people experience in Maryland and most other places, that I’ll never be able to afford the kind of middle class life that my parents were able to build in Montgomery County as public sector workers without college degrees. 

I am proud to have been raised in Maryland, and as a scholar of American literature and culture, I am proud of the tradition of outsider, nonconformist, and social justice figures in Maryland history.  Writers and abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, creative geniuses like John Waters and John Barth, women unafraid to break down barriers like Billie Holiday and Mama Cass Elliott, and many other figures in Maryland history have helped shape its image as a place of refuge and support for the outsider and the minority.  Our legacy as a colony supporting religious liberty in the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649, and our recent passage of the Civil Marriage Protection Act allowing for marriage equality for all loving and committed couples, demonstrates our enduring legacy as a place that genuinely strives to give all Marylanders the equality that allows them to perform at their best, and contribute to a better society.
I hope today you will vote for the passage of the Fairness for all Marylanders Act of 2014.  Let’s continue to place Maryland at the top of the list of places that promotes a just and egalitarian society for all, and a place that emphatically shuts the door on ignorance and discrimination against anyone different from ourselves.  Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and for making me exuberantly proud to call myself a Marylander, because Maryland is a place that embodies the best principles of United States democracy.

Yours Truly,