Jessica L. MacFadzen: For New Hampshire’s transgender community, a chance to live free

For the Monitor
Published: 7/16/2018 12:15:09 AM

As a lifelong resident of New Hampshire who has spent my adult life serving my country and the citizens of the state, as both a member of the military and a state employee, I had always dreamt of having the same basic rights as all other Granite Staters.

The simple things that men and women take for granted every day in this state, such as going grocery shopping or finding an apartment to live in, were not so simple for me.

As a transgender woman I was not protected by the state’s nondiscrimination law, which meant that I could be asked to leave that grocery store or denied that apartment simply because of who I was.

I would like to take a moment to thank the many dedicated individuals who have worked on updating New Hampshire’s nondiscrimination laws to protect individuals based on their gender identity.

In 2018 all their hard work came to fruition, and New Hampshire became the 19th state in the nation and the final New England state to provide basic protections to people based on gender identity.

New Hampshire had the distinction of also being the first state in the nation to make these changes with a Republican-controlled government.

I was fortunate to be a part of this process over the past year. Not only did I get to meet people who had never met a transgender person and help them learn more about who we are, but I also got to learn more about myself as people got to know me and asked questions about who I am and what it is like to be a transgender person.

Testifying before the committees that reviewed House Bill 1319 was a new experience, and while it was hard to listen to testimony from people who opposed the bill at times, it helped me to realize that our biggest challenge wasn’t going to be changing the law but actually meeting Granite Staters and putting faces and knowledge to the term “transgender person.”

Thankfully the law was passed and Gov. Chris Sununu signed it into law. The law took effect on July 9 and the real work begins as we enjoy the opportunity to interact more freely with our community.

Updating New Hampshire’s laws won’t completely end discrimination in the state, but it does give people the recourse to address discrimination when they do experience it.

My biggest fear was that I would be discriminated against for being true to who I am and not have any legal recourse to protect myself. Luckily the majority of my experiences were positive, but there were those situations that made me think twice about going out.

Being a victim of discrimination, regardless of the reason, is a hurtful experience that stays with you and is deeply impactful as you move through life. Each time it occurs it makes you a little less open to others as the feeling of dread consumes you more and more when you encounter people and corporations that may refuse to accept you as someone who deserves basic human rights. Knowing now that we are protected helps ease that dread, making it easier to go about our lives without fear of discrimination.

It is my hope that the reduction or removal of that fear will allow my transgender friends and neighbors more opportunity to enjoy all that New Hampshire has to offer. The law won’t end discrimination but giving more of New Hampshire’s citizens the opportunity to meet the transgender people in their communities will reduce the fear of the unknown by allowing everyone to learn from each other and realize that we all basically want the same things out of life: to live proudly, to live happily and to live freely.

In every civil rights movement it hasn’t been the law that has changed people, it was the opportunity to learn about each other and see those common desires that changed people; the law just provided the opportunity for it to happen. It is my hope that this will be the case now as well.

My hope for all of New Hampshire’s transgender citizens and visitors, and truthfully for all people in New Hampshire, is to take advantage of the update to our laws and get to know one another and find the commonalities and differences that make our communities happy and successful.

I ask everyone to embrace our differences and similarities and live proud, live happy, and, most importantly, live free.

(Jessica L. MacFadzen lives in Penacook.)

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