×

Transgender bill draws passionate response from opponents, supporters



Monitor staff
Sunday, March 05, 2017

Despite a strong recommendation from the committee, a bill banning discrimination against transgender people is poised to stall in the Republican-led House on Wednesday after people flooded lawmakers’ email inboxes over the weekend with comments about the measure.

Members estimate they have received more than 800 emails since Friday through the Housewide listserv. Many are identical, stock messages that come from people who don’t list their address or full name, making it hard to tell whether they are actually state residents, several lawmakers said. While the emails have been both in support and opposition, the latter are in greater number and seem to be having an effect.

Republican Rep. Jess Edwards backed the bill in committee, but has now changed his mind.

“The public is not ready,” Edwards wrote in a message he sent to all 400 House members Sunday. “The number of people who have written stating that this bill essentially offers their children up to sexual predators is outrunning by 5 to 1 the number of emails stating that it’s time to end the daily beatings of transgendered people. The passionate are yelling past each other with worst case scenarios. I don’t think this is an environment in which the legislature should pick a side.”

The legislation, House Bill 478, would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations such as movie theaters. At least 18 other states, including most in New England, already have similar anti-discrimination laws on the books.

After hearing hours of testimony, the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee voted to endorse the bill 15-2. Supporters say it adds needed protections for transgender people, who testified they have been fired, mocked and harassed because of their gender identity. The bill’s sponsors include high-profile Democrats and Republicans, including House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley.

But opponents counter that the bill could have unintended consequences, such as men entering women’s restrooms or locker rooms and assaulting people. The argument shows up in many of the dissenting emails sent to New Hampshire lawmakers in recent days. Citing concern over bathroom use, House Speaker Shawn Jasper said Sunday he is recommending the chamber table the bill.

“The bill is just not ready to move forward,” said Jasper, a Hudson Republican. “My concern is with those who are transitioning ... going into restrooms, showers, locker rooms, anyplace where it may make someone uncomfortable for a whole myriad of reasons.”

Proponents dismiss claims about assault as fearmongering. The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence backs the bill.

“The people who are sexually assaulting people aren’t men posing as a transgender woman in a bathroom,” said Jessica Eskeland, public policy coordinator for the coalition. “They are coaches, teachers and family friends. That is the reality nobody wants to acknowledge.”

The nationwide debate over transgender rights erupted last year when North Carolina approved a bill mandating people use public restrooms that match the genders on their birth certificates. New Hampshire lawmakers defeated an effort in 2009 to ban discrimination against transgender people. But last year, then-Gov. Maggie Hassan signed an executive order that forbid discrimination in state government based on gender identity. The bill would expand those protections statewide.

Advocacy groups on both sides of the debate are urging people to contact representatives ahead of the vote. Emails range from personal notes to copy-and-paste text.

At least some of the latter are coming from a website called biologymattersnh.com, where people can enter their name, email and town to send a pre-written opposition email to House members.

“This bill is dangerous for the rights of New Hampshire citizens – rights like privacy, private property rights, freedom of speech, and religious freedom, among others,” the note says. “Plus, it puts the safety of women and children at risk by granting unquestioned access to what are currently private, safe spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms.”

It’s not clear who is behind the website, but the conservative group Cornerstone Policy Research is directing people there through its Facebook page.

Freedom New Hampshire, a group supporting the bill, also has a pre-written message on its website people can click and send to their own representative.

“This legislation does not seek to create new laws or special carve outs for transgender people,” the note says. “It seeks simply to extend existing state non-discrimination protections to transgender people in housing, employment, and public places like government agencies, restaurants, doctors offices, and hotels.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)