Quick—what is the big issue facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Marylanders in 2015?
Both the state legislature and voters made 2012 the year that the state chose same-sex marriage. In 2014, the legislature passed expanded anti-discrimination laws that included protections for transgender and genderqueer people in matters of housing, employment, and public accommodations. In each case, both state and national progressive organizations rallied behind calls for fairness in campaigns that required both lobbying and grassroots organizing.
Now those big wins are done, so what comes next?
At the national level, there is obvious traction behind what mainstream media keeps calling the "transgender movement," the long-past-due wave of treating transgender Americans as humans worthy of dignity. Then there are the state issues that make national waves, as in Indiana, where a new law threatened to permit discrimination based on religious beliefs. If either of these issues teaches us anything, it is that LGBTQ people still need advocates fighting for more than marriage.
Yet locally, there's little more than a murmur in most circles about the issues that still affect local queer folks. Gone are the "Vote for 6" yard signs and Facebook posts of yesteryear, and along with them, a lot of the accompanying fervor. Earlier this year, Marylanders briefly got a sense that the fight was on when, in his first few days in office, Governor Larry Hogan excluded gender identity (won in the aforementioned 2014 victory) among a list of protected categories in an executive order on equal opportunity. Yet just as fast as LGBTQ organizations could stand up in objection, the issue was corrected with a second executive order, leading some to speculate that the move was more of a misstep than an intentional slight.
In Annapolis, Equality Maryland, the state's leading LGBTQ rights organization, carried a full legislative agenda this session. They campaigned for bills supporting what the group's director, Carrie Evans, calls "lived equality," those issues impacting the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ people, and they had some success doing so. Bills that expand insurance coverage to include in-vitro fertilization for same-sex couples and revise the rules for reissuing the birth certificates of transgender Marylanders have passed in both chambers, and are now on their way the governor. Although bills strengthening the rights of de facto parents and incarcerated LGBTQ Marylanders fell short this year, the group considers 2015 a victory.
"I would say this was our most successful legislative session to date," said Evans. "[The bills concerning in-vitro fertilization] passed with the highest margins ever for a LGBT-related bill, and had the most Republican support we have even seen on our bills."
My guess is that, unless you dwell in activist or lawmaking circles, these issues haven't woven their way into your social media feeds the way that marriage equality did in 2012, or even the way that Indiana's new law has in recent weeks.
The fact that most Marylanders aren't likely familiar with any of those bills is a looming problem for advocates in post-marriage Maryland. Expanding reporting for segregated LGBTQ inmates seems like an important step, but it simply isn't as sexy as a campaign that champions handsome notions like love and fairness, or even the right of transgender people to work and live. Queer folks on the more radical side of the political spectrum have been talking for years about what happens when the steam runs out after big victories like marriage, workplace protections, and military inclusion, and how little the resolution of those issues seems to do for young queers, poor queers, and queers of color. The dwindling attention to local queer issues might suggest that they have a point.
According to Evans, this session's agenda represents the issues that they’ve been hearing engaged Marylanders ask about for years. “Other than marriage, we have gotten more calls about insurance coverage on in vitro than any other issue,” said Evans. Within the communities that Equality Maryland works—or at least, among those who vocally engage with the organization—these "lived equality" issues matter, even if they have been pushed to the backburner for the last few years.
As with most politics, there is also the matter of money. Across the country, both state and national LGBTQ organizations have been whispering about what fundraising looks like after big legislative wins. "We've lost people as funders simply because they think that the work is done," said Evans. Donors open their wallets for issues, like marriage or anti-bullying, that excite them. Fundraising, she explains, is a matter of finding what still excites people and expanding the work being done on those issues.
One approach to harnessing that excitement is for advocates to work on those matters that don't necessarily involve the legislature. Evans' group is just one of many working with gender and sexual minorities across the state. The local Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter is still busy with education and outreach. Free State Legal is still working to provide legal services to LGBTQ people, ranging from estate planning to gender-marker changes on official documents. Outside of Annapolis, Equality Maryland finds itself working with everyone from Baltimore City Police—on the topic of the rights and safety of transgender sex workers—to LGBTQ people and allies organizing on the Eastern Shore.
All that is to say, there is still a lot to do. Queer folks don't stop getting the short end of the stick just because we can marry and feel a little safer in our workplace, and discrimination doesn't end just because legal protections exist. These issues, paired with the coalition building that has come to define the progressive movement, means that 2015, 2016, and beyond offer no shortage of fights to be had.
Anthony Moll (@anthonywmoll) is a writer and educator who writes about books and queer matters. Wide Stance examines LGBTQ+ life, culture, and politics in queer Baltimore and beyond.