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Editorial Advisory Board: Celebrating Pride Month

Every June, LGBTQ individuals and allies recognize Pride Month as a way to celebrate their unity and to recognize the progress the gay community has made in terms of legal protections and overall acceptance.

This year is particularly poignant, as June 28 will be the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which is considered by many as the catalyst of the modern gay rights movement. Stonewall was a bar in New York City where gay people could safely come together. After numerous unprovoked police raids over many years, on June 28, 1969, the bar was raided again and patrons decided that they couldn’t take any more abuse and physically resisted.

Before 1969, the day-to-day existence of a gay person was criminalized. In the early 1960s, gay people weren’t allowed to be served alcohol because they were “disorderly,” while anyone wearing less than three items of “appropriate gender” clothing could be arrested in New York. Gay bashing, police raids and being fired for being gay were all common occurrences.

On this 50th anniversary, it seems appropriate to recognize the evolution in the law and also to critically assess the fragility of legal and physical protections for LGBTQ individuals 50 years later.

Maryland has much to be proud of in its recognition of the right of gay Marylanders to be protected and valued in our state. Maryland passed employment discrimination protections for sexual orientation in 2001, though it sadly took many more years to add gender identity and expression in 2014.  Ironically, Maryland in 1973 became the first state to ban recognition of same-sex married couples and then, 40 years later, one of the first states to recognize civil marriage through a referendum vote.

Hate crime laws include sexual orientation and gender identity. And, most recently, the legislature passed a bill that provides for a third gender option of “X” on driver’s licenses, which will go into effect on Oct. 1. Finally, conversion therapy was banned in Maryland in 2018.

At the federal level, progress is more mixed. Stonewall was a moment when LGBTQ people fought for their right to exist. Today, the fight is for the same protections, benefits and responsibilities as heterosexuals. These efforts have resulted in major wins such as the 2013 Windsor case, which struck down the federal definition of “marriage” and “spouse” in the Defense of Marriage Act, and the 2015 Obergefell decision, which ensured a fundamental right to marry for same-sex couples.

For these wins at the state and federal levels, we should pause to recognize the brave LGBTQ individuals and allies who sacrificed a great deal to bring the law better into alignment with valuing all of our citizens.

But the stark reality is our laws continue to leave far too many members of the LGBTQ community vulnerable to bigotry and discrimination.

In Maryland, LGBTQ individuals who work for religious organizations, including major institutions such as hospitals and locally based NGOs, can be fired for being gay. If they dare to marry their partner, and receive the state and federal protections to which all other couples are entitled, they risk the public record and being outed. Gay employees who work for these institutions can’t provide health care coverage for their partners or spouses, though all other employees have this benefit.

At the federal level, much work remains. In 26 states, an individual can be fired simply for being gay. No other reason required. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear three cases next term questioning whether sexual orientation and gender identity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act are protected as sexual discrimination. Arguments are scheduled for October. As the court’s makeup has changed since the 2013 and 2015 marriage decisions, the outcome under this new court is unclear. The justices in the “wedding cake” case from 2018 decided the case on very narrow grounds, leaving unresolved whether businesses can choose not to provide services to LGBTQ customers.

In addition, a 2016 decision to open up the military to transgender soldiers recently was reversed and a ban on their service enacted. While gay Marylanders receive many protections in our state, their brothers and sisters in more conservative states are left without many basic protections.

And so, as we mark the 50th anniversary of Stonewall this year, the members of the Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board, along with others throughout this state and nation, celebrate how far our laws have come to protect our LGBTQ citizens and stand beside them on the ongoing journey to full justice and recognition.

Editorial Advisory Board member Arthur F. Fergenson did not take part in this editorial.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Martha Ertman (on sabbatical)

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Michael Hayes

Ericka King

Stephen Meehan

William Michaels

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

Mark Stichel

Vanessa Vescio

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.