Transgender civil rights bill draws crowd at State House | New Hampshire
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Transgender civil rights bill draws crowd at State House

State House Bureau

January 31. 2018 10:53PM

Members of the Windham High School Gay Straight Alliance occupied a row in the House of Representatives for a hearing on transgender civil rights. (Dave Solomon / Union Leader)

CONCORD — For the second year in a row, supporters of civil rights protections for transgender individuals crowded into the State House to make their case. The turnout was so large that a public hearing before the House Judiciary Committee had to be moved to Representatives Hall.

Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart’s Location, was the lead sponsor of the bill last year, and on Wednesday introduced a new bill, HB 1319, with 15 co-sponsors, including 12 Republicans (nine representatives and three senators).

Gov. Chris Sununu told the New Hampshire Union Leader last week he supports civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity.

Last year’s attempt to add gender identity to the state’s civil rights statutes failed in a 187-179 House vote, even though it was endorsed in committee. The 2017 bill was tabled, not defeated.

Proponents of the bill said transgender people suffer discrimination, particularly in housing and employment. The committee heard hours of testimony, much of it describing such discrimination firsthand.

“What you are hearing today is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the ACLU.

“For all the stories you hear today, there are hundreds more individuals throughout the state who are affected by gender identity discrimination. They have had their lives disrupted, housing threatened and their ability to support themselves undermined by the discrimination they face.”

Shannon McGinley, executive director of the conservative Cornerstone Policy Research in Manchester, said lawmakers would be moving into subjective qualities by adding gender identity to civil rights law.

“Biological sex is objective,” she said, “Gender identity is not. By including it in discrimination law, we would be moving beyond objective measurable qualities and into subjective qualities for the first time. One can be compassionate without abandoning biology.”

Mark Warren of Gilmanton, father of three, said he opposes discrimination against anyone, but “I want to allow my kids to know when they are on a sports team, when they are in a locker room, who it is they are around.”

Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso said the N.H. Police Chiefs Association supports the bill. He described the “bathroom argument” as conjuring up the “boogeyman.”

“The reality is I spent many years investigating child sexual abuse cases,” he said. “I didn’t have to worry about someone going into the bathroom dressed as a woman. It was the next door neighbor, the mom’s boyfriend or someone volunteering to be around young children. You cannot go into a bathroom to invade someone’s privacy. That law is on the books.”

The full House could take up the bill as early as next week.

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