Metro Weekly

New Hampshire Senate approves transgender rights bill

Bill's passage marks the first pro-LGBTQ rights victory in a state legislature since 2016

New Hampshire State Capitol – Photo: Billy Hathorn, via Wikimedia.

The New Hampshire Senate has passed a transgender rights bill, making the Granite State the last state in New England to extend protections based on gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

The passage of the bill also marks the first proactive win on LGBTQ nondiscrimination in a state legislature since 2016.

The Senate was forced to take two votes: one to reject the recommendations of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which recommended that the bill be sent away for “interim study,” which amounts to killing the bill; and one to pass it outright, says Linds Jakows, the campaign manager for Freedom New Hampshire, which supported the bill.

Senators split 14-10, with all 10 Democrats and four Republicans voting to move the measure out of the Senate and to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R) for his signature into law. The bill passed without any amendments meant to weaken the bill.

The bill was pushed by a coalition of pro-LGBTQ organizations including Freedom New Hampshire, Freedom for All Americans, PFLAG, Transgender New Hampshire, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Rights and Democracy, the ACLU of New Hampshire, and the Human Rights Campaign.

The coalition also received support from the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association and the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, two organizations that helped dispel the “bathroom predator” myth raised by opponents as a way to defeat the bill.

Jakows notes that transgender people have previously been able to bring cases of discrimination before the state’s Human Rights Commission, but without any explicit statutes protecting gender identity, they’ve been forced to argue that they were discriminated against on the basis of “sex” — something that may be harder to prove.

“We think this bill will increase clarity in the law, so that businesses will know what they need to do to stop discrimination before it starts, as well as for landlords and public places, in terms of the rules they set for their customers,” Jakows says. “We think it will actually decrease discrimination just by being on the books, but will provide recourse for people to more easily have their case processed by the Human Rights Commission.”

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the senior director of research and training for Freedom for All Americans, hails the bill as an important measure for transgender residents.

“This is not hypothetical. It means that transgender Granite Staters are seen as welcomes in society, just as anybody else,” says Heng-Lehtinen. “It’s significant for the majority, including Republicans, to say, ‘We support you. You can live here, you can work here, you can go to school here.’ On a personal level, it means you are welcomed by your neighborhood, by your state, and accepted for who you are.”

“I think the bill just makes a statement that transgender people are welcome to live in New Hampshire, and that it’s safe to live your life here,” says Liam Magan, a 24-year-old septic system evaluator for the state, from Keene, N.H. 

Magan says that when he was working at a Five Guys restaurant, he was harassed at work by co-workers and supervisors, who addressed him by female pronouns and his former name — which managers refused to change in the system or on the schedule — and bullied him at work. He said he complained to management, who promised to talk to the offenders, but continued to schedule him to work with his harassers. He began searching for a new job, and when he found one, he quit.

“It felt very intentional, like they were trying to push me out without having to fire me,” he said of management’s response to his complaints.

Gerri Cannon, a 65-year-old self-employed transgender woman from Somersworth, N.H. who sits on the steering committee of Freedom for All Americans, recounts how she was let go from her job at Hewlett Packard amid a massive layoff shortly after she told her supervisors she was planning to transition.

“There was nothing explicit that a lawyer could use to help save my job,” she recalls. “I was conveniently buried as part of a huge layoff, but they hired someone into my group the same weekend I left. I was a customer-facing person, and I have a feeling they just didn’t want a transgender person in that role.”

After being let go, she struggled to find new work.

“A lot of people didn’t want to talk to a transgender person,” she says. “There was a stigma attached to that.”

Cannon says she’s pleased that the transgender rights bill passed.

“It’s essentially to allow transgender people to live a freer life, in safety, in our state, to be able to move around and not have to worry about their job or housing or accessing public spaces just because they are transgender,” she says. “Part of it is also a recognition by the state that transgender people are real, and that we struggle with discrimination. So the general public will hear that, and it may influence some people to say, ‘Okay, this is a transgender person. I’ll just have to treat them nicely.'”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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