By ELLA NILSEN
One by one, a group of people slowly formed a circle outside the state capitol building Thursday night. Holding candles and huddling against the cold, they went around the circle and read aloud the names of transgender individuals killed in the United States.
Thursday marked the third year the Equality Health Center has organized a vigil on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The day is meant to honor the lives of trans people killed across America and the world; 21 were killed in the United States in 2015 alone.
Concord Monitor series Living Transgender.
While some held aloft signs that said, “Love more, hate less,” and “Trans lives matter too,” many marchers sported a simple safety pin on their jackets as a sign of solidarity.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, safety pins have become a symbol for people to show they are allies who do not condone hateful rhetoric or violence against minorities, immigrants, women and L.G.B.T. individuals.
Fionn Shea, a 20-year-old trans man from Warner, said he has seen plenty of people wearing safety pins in coffee shops and on the street in the weeks since the election. Each one makes him feel safer and more accepted, he said.
Many have come a long way in their awareness and acceptance of trans individuals, but Shea said there’s more work to be done.
“It’s so important to make clear; allies, we need you and welcome you,” he said.
One New Hampshire lawmaker is trying to get the state to take concrete action against transgender discrimination during this upcoming legislative session.
Democratic state Rep. Ed Butler of Harts Location plans to file legislation that would update the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights to make it so state residents cannot be fired from their work or excluded from housing for their gender identity and gender expression.
While New Hampshire citizens cannot be discriminated against for their age, sexual orientation or place of origin, no such protection exists for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.
“There continues to be discrimination in a variety of different ways that trans people experience,” Butler said. “Moving this bill forward and hopefully succeeding will help to provide protections that this quite vulnerable population needs.”
Butler brought a similar bill in front of the legislature in 2009, which narrowly made it through the state House of Representatives but was defeated in the state Senate.
With increased awareness about transgender rights since then, Butler and New Hampshire activists say they are hopeful the legislation will pass in 2017, even with a Republican controlled legislative and governor.
“I think there is a distinct possibility it would succeed,” Butler said. “I wouldn’t be doing this unless the trans community was saying we should proceed.”
Butler’s bill is the only policy priority this year for newly formed transgender advocacy organization Freedom New Hampshire.
“We’re definitely hopeful,” said Freedom New Hampshire campaign manager JeanMarie Gossard. “This is a nonpartisan issue and we think that the current climate makes passing these protections more urgent.”
Even with increased awareness around transgender issues, Gossard said trans individuals in New Hampshire still face discrimination.
“We hear lots of different stories,” Gossard said. “We hear stories of beautiful triumphs, and then we hear lots of stories of folks who come out and are so much happier and thriving and lose their jobs.”
Gossard and Butler said they think the issue of protecting transgender rights should resonate with politicians on both sides of the aisle.
“It’s going to take a lot of community conversations, a lot of trans folks being willing to share their stories,” Gossard said. “We know that fairness and equality is not a partisan issue.”
Thursday night’s vigil and reading out the names of those lost to trans violence was a sobering reminder of the work that still needs to be done, Shea said.
“Hearing all the names, it’s heart-wrenching,” Shea said. “There are so many. We have a long way to go.”