Fairness for Marylanders Act 2014, Senate Bill 212 passed! What a monumental feat for Marylanders who identify as gender variant and transgender. Our new focus is how we make gender-identity protection a reality for those who are living day-to-day. How do we ensure that these individuals feel protected in public spaces while attempting to obtain employment, housing, and fair mental health and addiction treatment? How can we empower these individuals to use the law to legally respond to discriminatory practices? We must candidly focus on those who are trying to navigate various systems with minimal resources and supports.

The passage of the bill reflects a deep hope for many trans people. It means matters will hopefully look up for a person who is currently homeless, struggling with addiction, having mental-health challenges, even though he or she may not even know protection exists because of lacking access to a cell phone or a social-network account. struggling with addiction, have mental health challenges and who identify as a transgender bisexual woman, even though she may not even know protection exists because she does not readily have access to a cell phone or a social network account.

Welcome to Toni’s reality.

A transgender bisexual woman, she completed the orange postcard that was delivered to the desk of delegates during the campaign. Her signature came with great unspoken expectation – that the community would advocate on her behalf as she figures out where to sleep in Baltimore City each night. As the case for many transgender individuals, Toni says she remembers being, ‘run out’ of her neighborhood because of her gender identity. She recalls; I was threatened and harassed and by residents in the neighborhood and called ‘faggot,’ ‘freak,’ and I even had to fight for my safety. People assumed because I look male, I am a gay man; I am not, I am a transgender woman who can not transition right now.

Her father was a Vietnam Vet and her mom was ‘wild child’ whom she both loved dearly. Unavailable due to his past, Toni’s father spent much of his life outside the home after a flashback caused him to place his daughter in harm’s way. Living with her mom ended when she was eight years old and her mother passed. Drawing from her memoirs she invites us into her world. Living with grandma was good. The best part was when I would sneak and try on her clothes. I knew since I was nine or ten that I wanted to look like a female, but everyone kept saying it was wrong. I will never forget the time when my uncle, who was sometimes violent, caught me trying on my grandma’s cloths. He was in the Special Forces and lived in Virginia. He vehemently expressed, “No faggot is going to live in this house!”

I turned to drugs and alcohol early in my life to cope with what I saw in the mirror, it never matched what I feel. In school I was teased because of being a slow learner and my speech sound different. I suffered a brain injury at six months because my father had post-traumatic stress disorder from being in the Vietnam War. They told me he threw me against the wall and I almost didn’t make it. I felt alone in school and I tried to cope with gay jokes. I completed high school but it didn’t get better. I still struggled with who I was on the inside and drugs and alcohol were now my constant escape, and I began a journey of reckless behavior because I struggled with who I am. I did not have a word to describe what I was feeling until I met my first transgender person in Miami, Florida, who felt like a mom and actually helped me ‘come out’ in 2009.

Toni is very clear about her orientation as bisexual, describing it as a ‘party mix’! She freely talks about feeling connected to her body parts, which is not highlighted in many trans stories. What she recalls somberly is her struggle to change her current situation. The disease of addiction has played a role in Toni’s ability to move forward and owning this reality is something she battles with daily, “I have used for so long. I have a lot of work to do and I can do it.” Maintaining her mental health has also been a challenge because she lives with depression and anxiety, and recently connected with a psychiatrist after a stay in the hospital. Local venues have been a support for Toni as well, as she has finally been able to obtain health insurance, gain encouragement from peers through support groups, and get suggestions and find hope.

Despite the barriers of dual diagnosis, homelessness, and learning disabilities Toni says, “Never give up! It will be there when you least expect it!” She hopes to begin outwardly expressing her gender identity and have a place to call home, while working on getting clean and seeking recovery.