Editorial: N.H. Closer to Banning Transgender Discrimination

  • Gov. Chris Sununu. (Concord Monitor - Elizabeth Frantz)

Friday, May 04, 2018

Last summer,Valley News photo intern Jovelle Tamayo undertook a project to meet with some of the members of the Upper Valley’s transgender and gender nonconforming community, take their portraits, and talk with them about the experience — and the frustration — of living at a time and in a world that too often begrudges them their basic humanity. The result was a Sunday edition photo essay, ‘We’re Just People’: The Faces of Gender Identity, that illustrated the diversity, dignity and beauty of that community.

Ranging in age from 15 to 67, Tamayo’s subjects demonstrated courage and compassion, empathy and even a bit of defiance — not unlike most members of New Hampshire’s state Senate, which on Wednesday voted 14-10, with four Republicans joining the 10 Democrats, to pass a bill protecting transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. The bill, HB 1319, passed the House in March, 195-129, with the support of 47 Republicans. It now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu who, to his credit, has said he will sign it.

“These laws are necessary because of the pervasive discrimination that transgender people face at work, at home and in public,” Sen. Dan Innis, R-New Castle, who is gay, said in support of the bill. “I’m not transgender, but 10, 20 years ago, I experienced these discriminations. They’re painful.”

It’s been a long road to this point. A nearly identical measure was tabled last year. But should this bill actually become law, New Hampshire will join 17 other states — including the rest of New England — in offering legal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. (Vermont has protected people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation since 1992. That law was amended in 2007 to include gender identity and expression.) Of course, that leaves 32 other states that do not fully protect their LGBTQ citizens from discrimination, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Freedom for All Americans.

So there’s still more to do, as the comments of Sen. Bill Gannon, R-Sandown, indicate. While saying he supported the bill’s housing and employment discrimination protections, the public accommodation provision puts him in fear for his family’s safety. “This bill would remove privacy rights of my three young daughters in their locker room, my wife at her gym and my 91-year-old mother when she goes to a restaurant with over 25 people,” he said.

We thought British political activist Christine Burns had kneecapped that particular argument when she noted that “people who want to be perverts ... don’t need permission.” We also would direct Sen. Gannon’s attention to North Carolina’s lamentable experience with its own so-called “bathroom bill,” which required people to use the restrooms and similar facilities that corresponded to the sex indicated on their birth certificates. Passed by the North Carolina Legislature in 2016, that cruel bill was partially repealed the following year after more than 100 major companies objected, high-profile entertainers canceled performances, and sports leagues, including the NBA and the NCAA, moved events out of the state.

We recognize that some people will continue to have difficulty with how others express their gender and their sexuality. As then-15-year-old Olivia Lhundup-Zebo, of Hanover, told Tamayo last year for her photo essay, “A lot of people are very uncomfortable with people either switching genders, being both genders or being ambiguous.” But as Joshua Lambert, 25, of Claremont, told Tamayo, “We’re just regular people.” We think Anne Beon, of Charlestown, who was 67 when interviewed by Tamayo, may have said it best: “Even if the laws are on your side, it’s a matter of person-to-person. And that’s why we have to be out there every day, living our lives as real people.”

People whose gender identity or expression is nonconforming are just that — real people — and they deserve the protections this bill offers. We look forward to Gov. Sununu signing it.