Transgender rights advocate and Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer announced Thursday she is challenging state senator Rich Madaleno in the upcoming Democratic primary.
"We are ready for progress," Beyer said in a statement. "For too long, hardworking Marylanders have waited for economic fairness and equal opportunity."
In her campaign announcement, which was published on The Huffington Post and her website, Beyer cited her "track record of success on progressive issues" and said she wants to work on building jobs, improving schools, repairing infrastructure and adjusting health care policy.
"I ask for your support and your vote," she said, "and in return I promise to be the progressive champion Montgomery County sorely needs."
Madaleno, who is Maryland's first openly gay state senator, was elected to his current office in 2006 after spending four years representing the 18th district in the House of Delegates. He said he was surprised when he first learned of a potential challenge from Beyer about two weeks ago.
"I'm proud of my accomplishments over the last eight years that I’ve been in the Senate," Madaleno said. "The last four years have been remarkable years as Maryland has been a leader on progressive issues nationally, and I've been at the forefront of almost all of those issues."
Beyer's announcement comes about two weeks after Madaleno introduced a bill to protect transgender Marylanders from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. The bill is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday.
"We really are questioning the timing of her announcement," said Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland. "We need to all be focused on getting this bill passed."
Equality Maryland endorsed Madaleno's re-election campaign in December, and Evans said the nonprofit will continue to support him.
"He has been a champion of our community for decades and we will stick by him and ensure that we do what we need to do to get him re-elected," she said.
"This is a district that feels very connected to him," Evans added. "I absolutely know in June they will send him back to Annapolis."
Madaleno said he was similarly confident, mentioning his endorsements by various liberal nonprofits, and his work on the death penalty, marriage equality, education funding and changes to Maryland's tax code.
"I think the voters of my district are going to see [my] record and say 'he is the leader we expected, and we'll continue to support him,'" he said.
Beyer previously campaigned to represent the 18th district (which covers parts of Montgomery County) in the House of Delegates in 2010 and 2006, when she was running to fill Madaleno's seat.
If elected in 2014, she would become the first transgender person elected to the Maryland General Assembly.
Evans said she expects Beyer's candidacy to divide the LGBT community, since voters now "have to be in the position of [choosing between] an incumbent openly gay senator and a transgender challenger" in June's primary election.
Evans also said having a challenger in a previously uncontested election will divert Equality Maryland's resources from assisting its other endorsed candidates in tough races against "anti-gay opponents."
In addition to Beyer's role at Gender Rights Maryland, she currently sits on the board of directors for employment equality advocacy group Freedom to Work. She also previously served on the board of Equality Maryland.
"I promise to represent you as you deserve to be represented," Beyer said in her campaign statement. "Together, we can make Montgomery County and Maryland better as we lead the way to a more progressive America."
Currently, there are no Republican candidates in the race.