Gerri Cannon took the long road to her seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and as a local school board member.
The 66-year-old trans woman was instrumental in the recent passage of HB 1319, a bill that extended existing state laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, and public space to include trans residents. Before that, though, she lived through a variety of experiences that helped shape her beliefs and activism.
Shortly after announcing she was transitioning in 2005, Cannon was released from her position at Hewlett Packard. Despite 30-plus years working in the industry for companies like Compaq, Digital, and HP, she couldn't find another job. Undeterred, Cannon started her own carpentry business until the banks stopped lending money to her customers.
That's when she decided that if she couldn't make a life in her own town, she was taking her life on the road. Never one to shy away from challenges, Cannon learned how to drive big rigs and hit the highways. After five years, and over half a million miles of driving, medical concerns ultimately forced her from behind the wheel and she found herself in the small New Hampshire city of Somersworth.
Despite her varied jobs during this period, she did not shy away from being an activist.
Cannon was the sole transgender lobbyist arguing in support of HB 415 back in 2009. The bill would have added gender identity to New Hampshire laws regarding disenfranchised people. While the bill passed in the House, it died in the Senate. Cannon then became a founding member of Freedom NH and advocated for HB 478, which focused on the rights of the transgender community in the areas of jobs, housing, and public accommodations. This bill also died so when HB 1319 was introduced, Cannon decided a different approach was needed to communicate their message of equality and acceptance.
"This time we called on many transgender residents to share their stories," Cannon says. "And focused on educating individual House Representatives at House parties and informational panels where I shared my story and experiences."
In large part because of her efforts, HB 1319 passed in New Hampshire. Perhaps most impressive and heartening of all, though, is that it was passed by a Republican-led House and Senate, and signed into law by a Republican Governor. Cannon is not taking a break to celebrate, though. She has two more bills in the works to help ease changing birth records and adding a new gender to state drivers licenses.
It's been a long road for Cannon, but she still has a ways to go as she sees it.
"We still have some challenges for our transgender communities," Cannon says, ticking off a list of needs ranging including access to jobs and housing, but she remains excited and optimistic. "Supporting our non-binary population is the new frontier."