The Battle for Transgender Equality Intensifies in New England

Last month, New Hampshire became the first state since 2016 to pass statewide, proactive legislation shielding LGBTQ folks from discrimination when Republican Governor Chris Sununu signed House Bill 1319 into law, adding gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination legislation and “protecting transgender individuals across the state from discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces.” New Hampshire will now join the rest of the New England states in having comprehensive LGBTQ discrimination protections—and be the 19th state to fully protect transgender people from discrimination.

Activists celebrate the signing of HB 1319. (via @FreedomNH_ on Twitter)

The bill’s progress through a Republican-controlled legislature and past a Republican governor was staunchly supported by Freedom New Hampshire, a nonpartisan coalition that joined businesses, law enforcement, faith leaders, community advocates, schools, transgender residents and families, and grassroots supporters, “to educate people about what it means to be transgender and the unique hardships that transgender people face—and to grow support for legislation to explicitly protect transgender Granite Staters from discrimination under the law.”

This large stride for the transgender community in the Granite State is particularly important during a moment in which the Trump administration continues to work against trans rights, and as the community continues to undergo stark rates of violence in the United States. In 2017 alone, HRC tracked at least 28 deaths of transgender people in the U.S. caused by violence—the highest ever noted in a single year.

“I think we all agree that [the New Hampshire win] is a huge step in the right direction, but the fight is not over,” said Freedom New Hampshire volunteer Douglas Marino. “We still have a long way to go to make sure that trans and non-binary people are treated with fairness and respect that they deserve. I think going forward we’re going to want to work together as a community to make sure that the bill is implemented properly and that trans people in the state know their rights and know that they’re legally protected.”

One of the next places the Freedom campaign has turned its focus is Massachusetts— the state that is being called the “next transgender rights battleground.” This November, Massachusetts voters will decide on whether or not to repeal the state’s recent transgender non-discrimination law. The fact that the ballot is taking place in an often progressive and LGBTQ-friendly state such as Massachusetts makes this fight for transgender rights a critical one. Furthermore, this will be the first statewide popular vote on keeping basic protections for trans folks in the U.S., and the campaign to uphold the protections is currently swarmed by misleading and transphobic advertisements by the opposition.

In the face of this propaganda, Angela Dallara, the Director of External Communications for Freedom for All Americans, which is a partner on the Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign, told Ms. that the coalition is “working on the ground to make sure we have as many conversations as possible with voters, because we know that when we build understanding about who transgender people are, we see support for the transgender non-discrimination law.”

As the Freedom campaign focuses much of their energy on Massachusetts in their greater fight to win a federal, comprehensive nondiscrimination law for LGBTQ people, they are joined in battle by feminist and sexual violence groups organizing for transgender rights, including 17 sexual assault, domestic violence and women’s organizations in Massachusetts who believe that “ensuring these vital protections for transgender people does not diminish safety for sexual assault or domestic violence survivors.” This is merely a small portion of the over 300 domestic and sexual violence organizations around the country who are opposing anti-transgender laws and dangerous myths about the transgender community.

“It’s so important to see this support because these groups do the work everyday of safety for women,” Dallara said. “Opponents of the law try to mislead voters and say that this a threat to safety, but clearly the experts on safety don’t agree with that.”

About

Brock Colyar is a former editorial intern at Ms. He is currently a journalism and gender and sexuality studies major at Northwestern University, where he founded a campus queer and radical feminist magazine and serves as a sexual health and assault peer educator. Much of his spare time is spent overthinking intra-feminist politics and Stevie Nicks. You can follow him on Twitter @UnhappyFem (Photo via Colin Boyle/The Daily Northwestern.)