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By Tim Camerato
Lebanon — The City Council plans to discuss this week whether to add transgender employees to the list of those protected in the city’s anti-harassment policy.
A resolution proposed by Councilor Sarah Welsch asks the city manager to adopt a formal policy forbidding discrimination of transgender municipal workers, and communicate that policy with department heads and employees.
Welsch declined to comment on the proposal when reached on Monday, and directed questions to Interim City Manager Paula Maville.
According to documents on the city’s website, the resolution was initially brought to the council by Doug Marino, a student at the University of New Hampshire who also works with Freedom New Hampshire, a group that supports legislation aimed at better protecting the state’s transgender population.
“By taking this action, the (City Council) would be sending a very strong message that Lebanon is a place were all people are welcome regardless of their identity,” Marino wrote in a January email to the council.
Marino said on Monday he began advocating for policy changes in Durham, after learning that New Hampshire is the only New England state that doesn’t provide legal protections against discrimination for transgender people. Once Durham passed its own changes, he said, other municipalities began to follow suit, including the town of Newmarket, and the Portsmouth and Dover School Districts.
Lebanon’s current anti-harassment policy prohibits and physical, verbal or visual discrimination of municipal workers based on “sex/gender, race, color, national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, pregnancy, marital status, genetic profile or and other legally-protected status.”
The policy applies to all city employees, officials, contractors and volunteers and is in effect for all work-related activities.
But officials say it’s unlikely that adopting the resolution will change how city employees are treated.
“We don’t discriminate on any grounds whatsoever,” said Maville on Monday. “We wouldn’t discriminate against a transgender person regardless (of the policy).”
The same applies for the Lebanon Police Department, according to Chief Richard Mello.
“Equal opportunity and anti-discrimination policies are in the books regardless of what (the council does) with this resolution and what else they may include,” he said. “It doesn’t change our policies and practices at all.”
That might be so for now, said Grace Alden, a former Lebanon police officer, but without a policy on the books, she said, those attitudes could change as administrators and department heads come and go.
When Alden announced her own transition from a male to female in 2012, the department was run by then-Chief James Alexander, who took the position that she was covered by anti-discrimination policies already in place. However, formally amending the city policy would bring more clarity and consistency down the line, she said.
“I’m in favor of it and I guess my thinking is, why would you not?” Alden asked. “If you have a class of people in our city who very demonstrably face pretty amazing levels of discrimination in housing, unemployment, in access to public accommodations, in access to medical care, why would you not pass a law, pass a resolution or enact policies (banning discrimination)?”
However, it’s not certain the City Council will take any action on Welsch’s resolution, Maville said. Although the resolution calls for change in Lebanon, much of the proposal espouses support for state legislation that appears to have stalled.
Early last month, the New Hampshire House voted to table a bill that sought to bar discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations, including restaurants and movie theaters, according to the Associated Press.
Conservative legislators worried the bill would allow men to exploit the law to enter women’s restrooms, the AP reported. The legislation would now require a two-thirds majority to come up for a debate.
Alden attended hearings for the bill and stood outside the Statehouse with a sign that on one side read “It’s not about bathrooms” and “It wasn’t about water fountains” on the other.
She called the conservative argument on bathrooms a “boogeyman” and said there’s little to no recorded evidence of someone posing as transgender to assault another person. Instead, she said, research has shown transgender people are more likely to be victims of an assault.
The City Council is scheduled to take up the resolution at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in City Hall.