N.H. transgender community ‘in the shadows’

Monitor staff
Published: 8/20/2016 11:14:10 PM

Police don’t track crimes against transgender people. 

The national census doesn’t collect data on gender identity.

Businesses continue to grapple with bathroom rules.

Schools with policies specific to transgender students can be counted on two hands.

Transgender people in New Hampshire say they face discrimination in employment, housing and public settings. But there’s little data to shed light on the scope and nature of the problem, or even how many transgender people are living in the Granite State.

Besides anecdotes, it’s tough to get a clear picture on the bias or acceptance they face.

A transgender man from Concord said the school district was welcoming and encouraging when he transitioned to male as a teen.

A Concord business owner says she gets some strange looks, but she feels safe here.

A woman from Laconia says she’s wary of using public restrooms because of the threat of harassment.

An Amherst doctor says most physicians are at a loss when faced with a transgender patient.

Transgender people are those whose gender identity differs from that assigned at birth.

Estimates show roughly 1.4 million adults identify as transgender in the U.S., or about 0.6 percent of the population, according to the most recent figures from the Williams Institute, a think tank that focuses research on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Between 2,700 and 7,362 transgender adults live in New Hampshire, less than 1 percent of the population, estimates show. The bulk of them are between ages 25 to 64.

Most often data isn’t collected. Even when it is, transgender people fear coming forward and being counted over concern they will open themselves to scrutiny, advocates say. 

Seventy-one percent of transgender people reported hiding their gender or gender transition in an attempt to avoid discrimination, according to a 2011 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“They are in the shadows,” said Christen Bustani, of Transgender New Hampshire. “There’s just so many things I could have lost, I was afraid of losing, because of coming forward. . . . It’s easier to try to play a theater acting role.” 

While at least 19 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, New Hampshire does not.

A legislative effort to change that in 2009 fell flat, and no further attempts have been made.

Democratic state Rep. Ed Butler, of Hart’s Location, is considering filing a bill this session to prohibit discrimination against transgender people, but he said he won’t make up his mind until after the November election.

The New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights investigates complaints of discrimination in employment, public accommodation and housing, but has received few cases related to gender identity in recent years.

Commission statistics show that during the 2015 fiscal year, one transgender discrimination allegation was filed at the federal level and none were submitted at the state level. The most recent state complaint was filed in 2012, according to executive director Joni Esperian.

Most of the commission’s calls on transgender issues come from employers, Esperian said, who ask questions about accommodations, such as which locker room transgender people should use. 

“If someone is fully transgender then they should be using the restroom that they feel most comfortable with and if it’s with their gender they associate with, that’s appropriate,” Esperian said. “That’s what all of the medical literature is telling us.”

Bustani said the commission’s complaints, or lack thereof, aren’t representative because transgender people may be reluctant to file.

“I don’t think it’s an accurate picture,” she said. “But we can’t say otherwise.”

The 2011 national survey of 7,500 transgender people across the country found respondents faced double the rate of unemployment than the general population. One quarter reported losing their job over being transgender. The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force report also found: 

Almost 20 percent of those surveyed reported they were refused a home or an apartment because of their gender identity. 

More than half of those surveyed said they were verbally harassed or disrespected in public places of accommodation, including restaurants and hotels.

Ninety percent of respondents said they experienced mistreatment, discrimination or harassment at work. 

New Hampshire is wading into the debate over the national transgender rights. Gov. Maggie Hassan signed an executive order in June that prohibits discrimination against transgender people within state government. The policy will take effect in mid-September, and hasn’t yet been released.

It will “include guidance for agency supervisors and human resource administrators in assisting transgender employees with transition, as needed, as well as providing basic education for coworkers and resources for all state employees,” said Hassan’s spokeswoman, Erica Eshman.

New Hampshire’s attorney general also signed onto a brief supporting the Obama administration’s guidelines on transgender bathroom use. The guidance, released in May, requires public schools let transgender students use bathrooms that match their chosen gender identity. The rules faced backlash and now are being challenged in court by several states that labeled the policy an overreach and a misinterpretation of anti-discrimination laws.

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