Grace Mattern: State should protect all citizens from discrimination

For the Monitor
Published: 3/5/2017 12:15:05 AM

The New Hampshire Legislature has an opportunity to expand our proud tradition of freedom for every citizen by passing HB 478.

This bipartisan bill would add gender identity to the law that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of age, sex, race, religion, family status, disability or national origin. For the first time, transgender individuals in New Hampshire would also be protected.

The current statute declares the state has an interest in prohibiting discrimination because it “not only threatens the rights and proper privileges of its inhabitants but menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic state and threatens the peace, order, health, safety and general welfare of the state.”

Protecting all our citizens from discrimination makes it clear that here in New Hampshire we believe every person matters. Our transgender neighbors want what we all want: to contribute to our communities, live peacefully in our families and be free from harassment and prejudice.

More than 50 members of the public testified before a House committee in favor of the bill. Supporters included Republicans and Democrats, business and faith leaders, health professionals, educators, public safety officials and advocates for victims of sexual and domestic violence. Transgender teenagers gave particularly compelling testimony, sharing the difficulties they face as members of a misunderstood and often mistreated minority.

The committee voted 15-2 to recommend the bill’s passage by the full House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, not everyone in New Hampshire acknowledges the justice in protecting all our citizens.

Cornerstone Policy Research and other opponents are spreading misinformation to defeat the bill. They claim it would open the door to assaults of women in bathrooms and locker rooms by men claiming to be transgender women.

There is no evidence to support that claim.

Eighteen states and over 200 municipalities have passed laws and ordinances that prohibit discrimination against transgender people. There has been no increase in assaults of women in any of those cities or states. Assault or harassment of anyone in any public accommodation will still be a crime in New Hampshire. Including gender identity in our state’s anti-discrimination law will not affect the incidence of those crimes.

In fact, protecting transgender people from discrimination could lead to a decrease in crime, specifically hate crimes. Transgender women are the most common targets of hate crimes, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, and represent a disproportionate share of people murdered due to hate violence.

Transgender women are also more likely to be victims of physical and sexual assault. Extending protection to transgender individuals would make New Hampshire a safer state, which is why the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police supports the bill.

Asserting that assaults of women in public bathrooms would result from the passage of HB 478 ignores the reality of how women are assaulted, and by whom. I know that reality, having been the executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (another supporter of the bill) for 30 years, and a member of the advisory board of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Women are most likely to be assaulted by someone they know, in their own homes. Research in New Hampshire found that women were sexually and physically assaulted by a stranger in fewer than 13 percent of cases.

The opposition to HB 478 is creating unjustifiable fear to defeat what they call the “Bathroom Bill.” This bill is not about bathrooms and the opposition is not about protecting women. This bill is about protecting some of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens, citizens whose vulnerability stems from exactly the bigotry that is driving opponents to ensure they’re not protected.

Hopefully the Legislature will understand the need to extend anti-discrimination protections to transgender individuals, making New Hampshire like every other state in New England.

We all want to live free. Let’s be sure all our neighbors can, too.

(Grace Mattern is a poet and writer who lives in Northwood. She blogs at gracemattern.com.)




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