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By ELLA NILSEN
Activists in the transgender community may not have gotten the law they wanted this legislative session, but they are not done trying to spur change in New Hampshire.
A House bill that would have banned discrimination against people for their gender identity was tabled this year, despite strong backing from the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee.
“This bill had nothing to do with reasonable accommodation or public accommodation,” Mikayla Bourque of Laconia said at a forum at Red River Theatres on Wednesday. “All it was was to have it on the books this year, that’s all we wanted.”
Even though they expressed frustration that the bill was tabled for a year, advocates remained hopeful.
“By tabling instead of going against it, (legislators) showed how uncomfortable they were with going against it,” said J.J. Smith, the public policy co-chair for the New Hampshire Public Health Association.
Smith also noted support in the state Senate for the measure.
“I don’t think we have any question that we will get through the Senate on this stuff when we come back,” Smith said.
Panelists and audience members expressed frustration with the public’s fixation on bathroom bills, saying many other issues around discrimination and stigmatization, including trans people not being referred to by their preferred name or gender, or not being able to play sports because of their gender identities, are more pressing.
And while they said the past few years have brought an incredible amount of awareness and progress, there is still a lot of work to be done.
“I can’t express the amount of people that come into my salon that are going through transition and the absolute pain I see in so many eyes,” said panelist Kae Mason, a transgender woman and the owner of Salon K in Concord. “This reminded me we can’t do enough. The suicide rate is still catastrophic, it is so high right now.”
The panel discussion included Mason and Bourque, who were both featured in a five-part Monitor series called “Living Transgender.” The panel also included Monitor reporter Allie Morris.
The discussion followed a screening of the film Real Boy, which follows a young transgender man in California named Bennett “Ben” Wallace.
Following Wallace through the start of testosterone injections and eventual top surgery to remove his breasts, the film also focuses on the relationship between him and his mother, who is initially hesitant to accept her son’s transition from female to male.
Eventually, Wallace’s mother comes to terms with the change and embraces it, showing up to his surgery and crying and confiding in another mother of a trans teenager in the parking lot of the surgical center.
However, Wallace still struggles for acceptance from his father and older sister.
The family dynamics in the film hit home for many of the panelists.
Bourque broke down as she started speaking after the film was over.
“I’ve seen this three times, it’s very emotional for me,” she said. “I live a lot of this.”
Of her three daughters, Bourque said, one still does not accept her as a transgender woman.
“As a parent, you’re trying your best to raise your daughters,” she said. “There’s a feeling of, you want to be the best for your children, but you also want to be the best for yourself.”
Mason said she is lucky enough to be part of a loving and supportive household and is accepted by her wife and children.
“I am the mother of five kids, and yes, I did father them, but I consider myself their mother,” she said. “One of the things I noticed about the movie, it was really disturbing to see the lack of sibling love and parental love, if you will.”
Laura Morrison of Concord spoke as the mother of a transgender woman who came out a few years ago.
“We were confused and surprised at first, but very accepting,” Morrison said. “We always wanted our kids to be their authentic selves. Since she came out as trans, she’s just her authentic self.”