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The Meaning of a Trans Rights Victory in a Republican State

New Hampshire House

The New Hampshire win offers lessons for coming legislative battles, writes Kasey Suffredini of Freedom for All Americans.

Any day now, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire will sign into law landmark legislation extending nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing, and public spaces to transgender Granite Staters. This is a big victory for our community -- and it was far from a foregone conclusion.

Last year, the New Hampshire House effectively killed this bill. One year later, some of the very lawmakers who were once opposed -- most of them Republicans - became staunch allies, propelling House Bill 1319 through the House and the Senate with strong bipartisan support. The campaign fended off efforts to delay the bill again or gut it with unacceptable carve-outs that would have left transgender people vulnerable to discrimination. In the end, we passed a clean bill with comprehensive protections, and within an hour of the final vote, the governor announced his intent to sign it into law.

It's been a long journey to victory. Local and state advocates have been mapping out a path to win transgender nondiscrimination protections in New Hampshire for more than 20 years, after the state passed a law protecting LGB people in 1997. Three years ago, Freedom for All Americans recognized an opportunity in New Hampshire and drew up a plan with local advocates to invest deeply in working with partners to prioritize passage of nondiscrimination protections for transgender Granite Staters. At that point, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, which had worked in New Hampshire throughout its history, was the only other national organization that agreed to directly invest alongside us. The result of that early collaboration was Freedom New Hampshire, a nonpartisan coalition of transgender residents, their families, and allies from all parts of life working to introduce Granite Staters to transgender people and to make the case for nondiscrimination protections.

The LGBTQ movement approached this campaign differently than others in the past -- and it's clear that we're homing in on a playbook that elevates the voices of transgender Americans and our allies; dismantles the scare tactics of our opponents; and wins over critical allies -- like conservatives, people of faith, businesses large and small, and safety advocates.

We gave people a chance to not just learn about transgender people but to meet them face-to-face. The campaign launched a series of innovative "Ask a Trans Person Anything" town halls that sought to answer questions about what it means to be transgender and to provide transgender people a rare platform to explain it themselves, rather than having it explained for them by allies. We see time and again that knowing a transgender person is directly correlated to support for nondiscrimination protections -- and so we put that lesson into practice.

We addressed attacks head on. We prioritized having very specific, sometimes challenging conversations about what the law actually means for restrooms and gender-segregated facilities, in order to dispel myths about the implications of treating transgender people fairly. We set up one-on-one targeted conversations and meetings to move legislators we knew were essential to passing the bill. And we connected them with local transgender residents in their districts who could humanize and personalize this issue.

We showed that support for nondiscrimination protections is broad, far beyond the confines of the LGBTQ community; and that New Hampshire was ready for the legislature to act. The campaign ensured that the stories of people impacted by nondiscrimination protections, and their allies, broke through in the media cycle. The campaign secured and elevated endorsements from the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, New Hampshire Women's Foundation, the House Libertarian Caucus, the state's chamber of commerce, faith leaders, and more.

But without a doubt, the most crucial element to replicating the success of New Hampshire in other states will be to continue creating space for transgender Americans and their loved ones to share their stories and have safe, open dialogues with other community members. We didn't shy away from raising awareness of the unbelievably high risk of sexual assault for transgender people themselves. Our nonbinary campaign manager spoke openly about their identity, explained their pronouns, and talked about their experiences navigating public spaces. We lifted up the voices of parents of transgender people from all walks of life, from a Catholic Republican mother's story of her young transgender daughter's attempts at self-harm to a police chief's experience of having no clue of how to support his son when he first came out as transgender. We made sure all press conferences featured transgender people who had experienced discrimination and included authentic descriptions of everyday challenges that transgender people face as they move through the world.

None of us are naive about the challenges still facing our movement: The Trump-Pence administration is the most anti-LGBTQ administration in our nation's recent history, and is committed as ever to undermining our progress at the federal level. And many state legislatures remain deeply challenging -- states where simply defeating hostile bills and holding the line on the status quo too often feels like the best we can do. It's frustrating, and we all want to bring about change as quickly as possible.

But we have something that we didn't several years ago: a clearer playbook for success that not only creates concrete change now, but also changes the climate for the long term. As we head into a 2019 legislative session likely to be defined by divisive midterm elections and the outcome of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, our playbook can help steer us toward building stronger partnerships, strengthening communities, and grounding our work with the power of our stories -- even in our most challenging states.

KASEY SUFFREDINI is the president of strategy at Freedom for All Americans, the campaign to secure LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections nationwide.

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