My Turn: Transgender measure in Portsmouth is a big step toward equality
Earlier this month, the Portsmouth City Council voted unanimously, after friendly discussion and following the testimony of a number of residents, to adopt a resolution directing our city management to provide a non-discrimination hiring policy for transgender citizens. It also calls on the New Hampshire Legislature to adopt transgender protections statewide. Ours became the first community to do so.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, on this planet more important than the way we treat each other. Imagine, if we treated one another with equality and fairness, so much hardship, and perhaps all wars, would be eliminated. We should welcome our commonality – after all, we are biologically about 99 percent alike – but we should also celebrate our differences. This would be a mighty boring life if each of us was just like each of us.
In 1993, on a warm mid-summer evening, the Portsmouth City Council considered an ordinance that would have provided protections for gay and lesbian citizens. Generally, it would have prohibited discrimination due to sexual orientation in city employment, and ask that businesses provide similar protections.
Portsmouth would have been the first community in the state to do that. The ordinance was defeated, but it led to wider discussion statewide, resulting in sexual orientation being added to New Hampshire’s civil rights statutes in 1997 by legislation signed by Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Ours became just the 11th state to adopt such protections.
I have had the unique perspective of seeing first-hand the evolution of these issues the past two decades. I was Portsmouth assistant mayor in 1993 when I unsuccessfully proposed that ordinance for gay and lesbian equality, and I watched passage of the resolution for transgender nondiscrimination two weeks ago.
As a New Hampshire state representative, I watched passage of the 2007 civil unions bill, followed just two years later by the marriage equality law – both proudly signed by Gov. John Lynch. With the active support of thousands of citizens who courageously stepped forward to fight for equality, our state became just the fifth to adopt gay and lesbian marriage. Now, 18 and the District of Columbia have. About half of all Americans live in states legally recognizing same-sex marriages.
Currently, 17 states have protections for transgender individuals, including all New England states except ours. We have been a national leader standing with our gay and lesbian residents, but as yet have not stood with our transgender citizens.
Those watching were inspired at the courage shown by the transgender individuals and their supporters who spoke in Portsmouth for the resolution, and are further inspired by those who continue the fight on the state level. Every city and town should join in adopting resolutions of support for our transgender residents, and call on our legislators and governor to act.
The wave of support for equality will eventually win out, and is impossible to stop once it rolls. Equality is an American value that while sometimes delayed and detoured is always the path Americans eventually choose.
The words “with liberty and justice for all” have both meaning and purpose. We’re all in this adventure of life together, and we only have a very short time to become friends.
(Jim Splaine served 24 years in the New Hampshire House and six years in the State Senate. He is currently Portsmouth assistant mayor. He sponsored the 2007 civil unions law, the 2009 gay marriage law and the recently adopted transgender resolution.)