OPINION: NH Needs To Add Transgender Protections to Law
It’s time for New Hampshire to ensure by law that transgender Granite Staters are not discriminated against on account of their gender identity. For this reason, New Hampshire House Bill 1319, a piece of legislation adding provisions to the state’s anti-discrimination laws that aim to protect transgender citizens, needs to become law.
There is a great need to address discrimination against transgender and non-conforming citizens in the United States. According to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, results gathered from a 2011 survey of a sample of transgender Americans suggests that at least 19% of them were refused housing and 11% were evicted due to their gender identity. A 2013 study by the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Watch says that the unemployment rates among transgender adults in the United States was twice the national rate at the time of research. These are troubling figures, and there is a good chance that the numbers could be even bigger since many people hide their gender identity out of fear of negative consequences for revealing those sorts of details.
Although New Hampshire is a small state, passing HB 1319 through the state’s General Court (the state’s legislature) and signing it into law would not only send an important symbolic message but also remove discriminatory obstacles from the lives of thousands in the Granite State. An August 2016 article in the Concord Monitor places the size of New Hampshire’s transgender population between 2,700 and 7,362 people, while a June 2014 study by the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles, presents a figure of 4,500 people (about 0.43% of the New Hampshire’s population at the time). Even with the lowest estimate, the bill would help many people.
HB 1319 would ease unjust burdens on transgender people by adding gender identity to the list of aspects of one’s life that New Hampshire law prevents discrimination against; the list currently outlaws discrimination on the basis of “age, sex, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability or national origin.” More specifically, the bill would make it illegal to deny a person of important goods and services such as housing (for both renting and purchasing) and employment on account of that person’s gender identity. Overall, the bill would do much to protect transgender New Hampshirites’ civil rights.
Still, the path to passage is not an easy one. Similar legislation was introduced twice before in the New Hampshire General Court, only to be defeated in 2009 and tabled in 2017. The debate over the current iteration is still being considered by the House Judiciary Committee (which held two crowded hearings on the bill in Concord over the past few weeks) and needs approval by the whole House of Representatives and the Senate along with Governor Chris Sununu’s signature before it can become law. The bill has bipartisan support, but its passage is still uncertain. Therefore, public support for the bill needs to be pronounced if its passage is to be ensured.
Both today and in the past, opponents of the legislation have brought up fears about sexual predators abusing the proposed laws to pose as transgender people and using that disguise to sneak into bathrooms to prey on people of the opposite gender (namely men sneaking into bathrooms to harass or assault young girls). This argument is flawed since there is little data that backs up this claim. Nineteen states (including Vermont) and the District of Columbia already have transgender protections in their laws, and only a handful of incidents of that nature have ever been reported since the implementation of those rules. In fact, New Hampshire’s neighbor Maine (which has had gender identity protections in its laws since 2005) has no such incidents to report, according to a March 2017 CNN analysis. There is almost no evidence that suggest that there is a correlation between the use of transgender protections and predatory bathroom advances where the offender masquerades as a transgender person. It should be noted that the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which are groups that focus on public safety, both declared support for HB 1319.
Right now, the New Hampshire state government stands to help better the lives of thousands of transgender people by improving access to jobs and homes among other things. However, this can only be accomplished soon if protections that stop discriminatory practices against transgender people are made law and enforced. Under the theory of the social contract, it is the duty of the government to defend the rights of the citizens it serves. Now, the state government needs to deliver on its obligation to ensure that transgender Granite Staters have equal access to opportunity under the law. Obviously, this alone does not solve the problem of anti-transgender discrimination, but it is a considerable step in the right direction.