With a weekend deadline looming, a conservative group – shadowed by an equal rights organization – is making a final push in an uphill effort to collect enough signatures to force a ballot referendum on a transgender rights law scheduled to take effect this fall.
"The bottom line right now is we're going full speed ahead," said Washington County Del. Neil Parrott, a Republican who chairs MDPetitions.com.
As of Friday, the group was thousands of signatures short of its goal. It faced a deadline of midnight Saturday to collect about 18,500 signatures to keep its effort going. It would need to get more signatures later if it reaches that initial milestone.
"We do know that we're short — thousands is correct," said Parrott, who said he did not have an exact count of how many signatures the group has.
The legislation protects transgender people against discrimination in employment and housing. It also upholds a transgender person's right to use public bathrooms and locker rooms for the gender with which they identify.
Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the bill on May 15.
"The biggest problem with the bill is the private facilities portion," Parrott said. "If there is a man dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, he can walk into a girls' restroom if he sincerely believes he is a woman at the time. It sets up a situation where sexual predators can take advantage of this bill."
Parrott's website calls the measure the "Bathroom Bill."
Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, said supporters of the bill have been trying to prevent Parrott and his volunteers from misleading the public. Anybody committing illegal acts against girls in a bathroom "will be charged and prosecuted as they would today or six months ago," Evans said Friday.
"We've had hundreds of volunteers out with [Parrott's organization] trying to educate voters on what the law really did," she said. "They were in Rockville last weekend. They were in Anne Arundel County. They were in Chestertown. We have volunteers…on rapid response teams. We absolutely took [the petition drive] very seriously. We felt it was our moral imperative to continue fighting."
Parrott said he hopes to collect 25,000 signatures by Saturday's deadline. That way, he said, the goal could be met even if some signatures were not deemed valid. He said Friday that signatures were still being received in the mail.
The bill is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1. But if it is headed to a November ballot referendum, the law would be delayed pending the outcome.