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Transgender anti-discrimination bill set to become law in New Hampshire

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he will sign the recently passed bill, which is intended to protect the state’s estimated 4,500 transgender residents.

CONCORD, N.H. — The state Senate on Wednesday sent a bill protecting transgender people from discrimination to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who said he will sign it.

Image: Chris Sununu
Chris Sununu greets voters at the polling station on Sept. 13, 2016, in Bedford, New Hampshire.Jim Cole / AP file

The bill, which passed the House in March, would ban discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations, in addition to the protections that already exist based on race, sex, religion and sexual orientation. It passed the Senate 14-10, with four Republicans joining all 10 Democrats in voting yes.

Among the supporters was Sen. Dan Innis, R-New Castle, said everyone in the “Live Free or Die” state should have the same protection, including the estimated 4,500 transgender residents.

“I don’t understand, I admit that, just as many of you don’t understand me. That’s not what we’re asking for in this bill,” said Innis, who is gay. “These laws are necessary because of the pervasive discrimination that transgender people face at work, at home and in public. I’m not transgender, but 10, 20 years ago, I experienced these discriminations. They’re painful.”

Sen. Bill Gannon, R-Sandown, said while he supported protecting transgender people from housing and employment discrimination, he believes the public accommodation provision amounts to a violation of privacy.

“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. “It puts the rights of one group over that of another.”

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, accused opponents of essentially saying “I’m all for equal protection for people because I like a lot of them, but not that much.”

“A legitimate function of government is to provide protection,” he said. “If we’re not willing to, without sly suggestions, support anti-discrimination on anybody for whatever reason, then we don’t guarantee it to anyone. If we don’t do it this time, what do we do six months from now? What do we do next year? Who falls out of our protection? Who do we then like and put in our protection?”

Lawmakers tabled a virtually identical bill last year, leaving New Hampshire the only New England state without such protections. According to the advocacy group Freedom For All, 18 states and the District of Columbia, have laws protects people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Gerri Cannon, a transgender woman who is on the Somersworth school board and is planning to run for a House seat, said the vote made her feel as if her time advocating for it was well worth it.

“I don’t want other transgender people to feel the despair and hopelessness I felt,” she said.

Liam Magan, a 24-year-old transgender man from Keene who said he was harassed at work after transitioning two years, said he was shaking with happiness after the vote.

“We’re welcome here, we’re safe here to work and live and experience New Hampshire,” he said. “I’m really excited.”