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By Tim Camerato
Lebanon — The City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a resolution calling for greater protections of New Hampshire’s transgender population and changes to city policy.
The resolution calls for the City Manager’s Office to create an anti-discrimination policy that protects Lebanon’s transgender municipal workers from retaliation and harassment.
City officials didn’t say when that change is expected to take place during the meeting, but Interim City Manager Paula Maville previously said she would create the policy if asked by the council.
“I think we are an inclusive city that does value equality, fairness,” Councilor Karen Liot Hill said shortly before the vote.
The measure was greeted with applause from the audience of more than 20 people, who filled most of the seats in the council chamber.
“I’m an ally and I love my community, and I just want to say that it would be wonderful if we could be on the correct side of history and put equality for all out there,” one woman told the council.
Lebanon resident Bob Riccio pointed out that the City Council has just recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
“ ‘With liberty and justice for all,’ ” he quoted back to the councilors.
The council initially took up the resolution at the behest of Doug Marino, a University of New Hampshire student affiliated with Freedom New Hampshire, a group that promotes legislation protecting transgender Granite Staters from discrimination. He’s recently introduced and won passage of the measure in several communities, starting in Durham, N.H.
“As time went on, other towns and cities began to take notice of this and take action as well,” Marino told the council.
Lebanon’s current anti-harassment policy offers protection against discrimination based on “sex/gender, race, color, national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, pregnancy, marital status, veteran status, genetic profile or any other legally-protected status.”
The policy is in effect when municipal employees are in work-related settings or attending to work-related activities, and it applies to all of Lebanon’s workers, volunteers and officials.
City officials have said they would not discriminate against a transgender employee regardless of the policy. But some have said that without it in writing, the city’s attitude could change as administrators come and go.
“The one gap was that there’s no mention of transgender citizens,” City Councilor Sarah Welsch said of the policy.
Welsch, who introduced the legislation, said it was meant to both make changes on a local level and offer support to statewide legislation.
Last month, state legislators voted to table a House bill that would have barred discrimination of transgender people in housing, employment and at public accommodations, such as restaurants and movie theaters, The Associated Press reported.
Eighteen other states, including the five other New England states, offer similar protections, according to the AP. But the bill was halted by conservative legislators who worried men would use it to enter women’s restrooms.
Rep. Sue Almy, D-Lebanon, said she believes the bill would have been approved if presented for an up or down vote, but Republicans weren’t willing to break ranks with Speaker Shawn Jasper to bring it to the House floor.
However, city councilors expressed hope that the bill will make another appearance before the House.
If enough towns passed similar resolutions, the New Hampshire Municipal Association could throw its support behind legislation, bringing in its lobbying capabilities, Liot Hill said.
Others supported the resolution and what it would symbolize for Lebanon.
“We are fair and equal and ‘liberty and justice for all,’ ” Mayor Sue Prentiss said, echoing the Pledge of Allegiance. “It means a lot.”