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A bill to ban anti-transgender discrimination has advanced in New Hampshire, with the House of Representatives passing it today and sending it on to the Senate.
The 195-129 vote in the bill's favor came even though Republicans hold a majority of House seats. A breakdown of votes by party wasn't immediately available, but supporters of the legislation prevailed by arguing that it was fiscally responsible as well as fair, the Associated Press reports.
Rep. Joseph Stallcop, a Democrat, told fellow lawmakers that people who suffer discrimination often end up unemployed and depended on government support. "If you cannot support these amazing individuals of this state, at least support the taxpayers because at the end of the day, we all experience financial burden thanks to prejudice," he said, according to the AP.
The measure, House Bill 1319, would ban discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. New Hampshire law already prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and sexual orientation. It is the only New England state that doesn't already include gender identity in antidiscrimination law, and one of only two in the nation that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity, Wisconsin being the other. Twenty states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
Because the bill includes public accommodations, some opponents raised the specter of people pretending to be transgender in order to harass or assault women and girls in public restrooms, although there have been no documented cases of such behavior in cities and states that allow trans people access to the restrooms of their choice. These actions would still be illegal.
"If a violent man wants to harm a woman, all he has to do is say he identifies as a woman and he can go wherever he pleases," said Rep. Jeanine Notter, a Republican opponent of the bill, the AP reports. "Never again will there be a safe space for women."
If the bill passes the Senate, also Republican-controlled, it will go to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has suggested but not promised he will sign it. Transgender advocates are cautiously optimistic. After similar legislation was tabled last year, activists undertook a major public education effort.
"We had a lot of transgender and allied constituents of Republican representatives who did vote to table last year's bill just ask to meet for coffee and share their personal stories about why this matters to them," Linds Jakows, campaign manager for Freedom New Hampshire, told The Daily Beast. The group also held panel discussions with themes such as "Ask a Trans Person Anything."
Several national LGBT groups released statements praising the House vote. "Today the New Hampshire House took a strong stand for fairness and equality," said Janson Wu, executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. "This bill provides important protections that will make it possible for transgender people to live and work on equal terms with their neighbors. Granite Staters can be proud of this momentous step forward. We hope the Senate will act quickly to pass this measure, to bring New Hampshire in step with all other New England states when it comes to fair non-discrimination protections, and to ensure that everyone in New Hampshire can truly live freely."
"The momentum behind the fight for equal rights in New Hampshire is growing as lawmakers and citizens alike continue to assert the importance of this transgender-inclusive legislation," said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. "Faith leaders, local businesses, public safety officials, and now the New Hampshire House of Representatives are collectively calling for fairness and freedom for all by working to ensure transgender people have the same vital protections against discrimination granted to all people of New Hampshire."
There was also some good news for transgender people this week from the West, with a federal judge in Idaho ruling Monday that the state cannot "automatically and categorically" deny trans residents' requests to change the gender on their birth certificates, the Idaho Statesman reports. "Such applications must be reviewed and considered through a constitutionally-sound approval process," U.S. District Judge Candy Dale ruled. She did not specify what this process should be, but the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare now must formulate it and begin accepting applications in April. Idaho has been one of only four states that do not allow for gender changes on birth certificates, with Kansas, Ohio, and Tennessee being the others.