On Tuesday, the Senate Judi- ciary Committee voted to send House Bill 1319 to interim study. This bipartisan bill would add gender identity to the law that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of age, sex, race, religion, family status, disability or national origin. For the first time, transgender individuals in New Hampshire would also be protected.
The three senators who voted for interim study don’t really need to study this issue. They heard hours of testimony from supporters and transgender people who shared discouraging stories of discrimination they’ve faced in workplaces and public spaces. Reliable research was presented to demonstrate that no harm comes from including transgender individuals in discrimination statues. Over 18 states, including all our New England neighbors, and over 200 municipalities have done so, without negative consequences.
The N.H. Legislature has all the information it needs to know that transgender citizens deserve and need protection. A 2011 study found that nine out of 10 transgender respondents had experienced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination in employment. Fifteen percent had lost jobs because of their gender identity or expression. A quarter faced housing discrimination, such as eviction or being denied a rental.
The real harm is from allowing discrimination against our transgender neighbors to continue. Transgender people experience high rates of negative health outcomes and emotional trauma, with 41 percent of respondents in the study reporting an attempted suicide. That compares with less than 2 percent in the general population.
Opponents of equality are using the same scare tactics they used to defeat the bill in the last legislative session. They claim HB 1319 would open the door to assaults of women in bathrooms and locker rooms by men claiming to be transgender women.
There is zero evidence to support that claim.
In all the states and municipalities that have passed laws and ordinances to prohibit discrimination against transgender people, including 10 in New Hampshire, there has been no increase in assaults of women as a result. Assault or harassment of anyone in any public accommodation will still be a crime in New Hampshire. Including gender identity in our state’s anti-discrimination law will not affect the incidence of those crimes.
In fact, protecting transgender people from discrimination could lead to a decrease in crime. Transgender women are the most common targets of hate crimes, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, and represent a disproportionate share of people murdered due to hate violence. Transgender women are also more likely to be victims of physical and sexual assault. Extending protection to transgender individuals would make New Hampshire a safer state, which is why the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police supports the bill.
HB 1319 has already passed the House of Representatives and Gov. Chris Sununu has indicated that he supports including gender identity in the state’s anti-discrimination statute.
Protecting all our citizens from discrimination would make it clear that here in New Hampshire we believe every person matters. Our transgender neighbors want what we all want: to contribute to our communities, live peacefully in our families and be free from harassment and prejudice.
Interim study doesn’t mean a bill needs more examination. It’s a polite way to kill a bill. It will be shameful if the full Senate lets those who have been scared off by misinformation and myths prevail. No more study is needed to know it’s time to protect some of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens, citizens whose vulnerability stems from exactly the bigotry that is driving opponents to ensure they’re not protected.
The New Hampshire Senate has an opportunity to expand our proud tradition of freedom for every citizen by passing HB 1319.
We all want to live free. Let’s be sure all our neighbors can, too.