CONCORD, N.H. — Transgender teenagers and their parents urged New Hampshire lawmakers to expand the state’s anti-discrimination law Wednesday, while opponents again focused on the fear of predatory men molesting women and children in public restrooms.
The bill before the House Judiciary Committee would ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on someone’s gender identity in addition to the protections that already exist based on sex, religion and sexual orientation. Lawmakers tabled a virtually identical bill last year, leaving New Hampshire the only New England state without such protections.
At a rally ahead of Wednesday’s public hearing, Emily Fishbaugh, of North Hampton, said was miserable as a young child before she transitioned in fourth grade. Her school has been supportive, she said, including allowing her to use the girl’s bathroom.
“I’m just like any other girl,” she said. “I’m just living my life and I’m happy.”
Her mother, Linda, said she grew up conservative and Catholic, and had no “guidebook” for raising a transgender child. But she said it came down simply to love.
“As we started to learn more, and she started to speak more, and we just listened more, then together as a family, we were stronger,” she said.
Opponent Mark Warren, of Gilmanton, told lawmakers that while he favors equal rights for all, he worries about his three children.
“I don’t live in fear, but I do want to allow my kids to have the same equal freedom and rights to know that when they’re on sports teams, when they’re in the locker rooms, that they know who it is they’re around,” he said.
Beth Scaer, of Nashua, said she doesn’t fear transgender individuals, but rather men who would pretend to be transgender to gain access to women’s restrooms and locker rooms.
The bill’s supporters argued that anyone who goes into a restroom to harass or assault others would be arrested and held accountable.
“It’s an anti-discrimination bill. It’s not an ‘I’m going to let you go into bathrooms and molest someone bill,'” said Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso, speaking on behalf of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart’s Location, called it an important step toward “safety, security and acceptance” for transgender people. Rev. Elsa Worth, of St. James Episcopal Church in Keene, agreed. Her 18-year-old daughter, Emelia, killed herself a year ago, shortly after coming out as transgender.
“There is enormous stigma in our culture to being transgender, especially being a transgender girl like Em, no matter how much personal support you have,” she said. “Even if your friends, school and family love and accept you, it is so often deeply apparent that society does not, and that there will be little recourse for you should you come up against discrimination or hostility in housing, or employment or in public spaces.”