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Looking Out: Amid 'wave' of anti-LGBT efforts nationwide, Maryland stands apart

Two bills pushed by the LGBT community have passed in Annapolis. In other states, LGBT advocates say they are under attack.
Two bills pushed by the LGBT community have passed in Annapolis. In other states, LGBT advocates say they are under attack. (Photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community say they are waging battles against a "wave" of anti-LGBT legislation in states across the country, from Maine to Texas to Nevada.

Meanwhile in Maryland, they're cheering new progress in an environment that may be more LGBT-friendly than ever.

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"What we're seeing is really this divide in the country between states like ours and those north of us that are really doing well moving forward every year, and then states in the south and midwest that aren't," said Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, the state's largest LGBT advocacy organization.

Though some high-profile battles -- such as those for same-sex marriage and transgender employment and housing discrimination protections -- were settled in Maryland in past years, this legislative session in Annapolis has been profoundly gratifying, Evans said.

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A bill intended to provide lesbian couples with the same health insurance coverage for advanced fertility procedures that straight couples enjoy passed both the Senate and the House this week by wide margins.

"It was the largest margin we've ever had a bill passed by, and it was the most bipartisan [support] that we've ever had," Evans said.

Meanwhile, another bill to allow transgender Maryland natives to change the gender listed on their birth certificates to reflect their identity also has passed both chambers, and Evans said she is optimistic that Gov. Larry Hogan will let both bills become law.

Hogan has not indicated his intentions.

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Evans said the bills were led by straight allies in the legislature, rather than members of the state's LGBT caucus -- another sign of widening support.

"Our anti-gay legislators are a very small minority now," Evans said.

Other states are in a very different position, she and other advocates said.

This week, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's leading LGBT advocacy group, warned a "wave of anti-LGBT bills filed across the country continues to swell."

So far this year, legislators have "introduced more than 85 anti-LGBT bills in 28 states," the HRC said. Of those, 34 bills in 9 states have failed, but two have passed in Arkansas and Indiana that would allow businesses and others to opt out of serving LGBT people on religious grounds.

So-called "religious refusal" laws have been proposed in other states, as have bills that would deny transgender people the sort of public accommodations protections they hold in Maryland, introduce policies clearing the way for so-called "conversion therapy," and undermine established local ordinances banning LGBT discrimination.

Evans said there are still many issues facing the LGBT community in Maryland, including conversion therapy practices and widespread anti-LGBT sentiments in more rural areas of the state, that Equality Maryland will continue to fight.

But given the support the LGBT community has been given at the state level, Evans said she's also been talking to her counterparts in other states about lending a hand.

"One of the things we're trying to do is reach out to states [that] are really under assault, to see how we can help and fight back against some of this stuff," she said.

Elsewhere in LGBT-related news:

- HBO canceled "Looking," but there's a special in the works to wrap up all the show's storylines.

- ICYMI, Baltimore OUTLoud's Steve Charing had a piece on Paul Liller, the 2015 coordinator for Baltimore Pride and the GLCCB's new development coordinator.

- And, in the Washington Blade, Charing had a piece on the Baltimore Eagle and its woes with the liquor board.

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