CONCORD, N.H. — Granite Staters from all walks of life testified before the New Hampshire House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee in favor of House Bill 478 today. If signed into law, the measure would update the state’s civil rights laws to explicitly protect transgender residents from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, such as public parks, restaurants and hospitals. State law currently extends these protections to individuals based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy, and marital status.
“This is an important measure that will ensure New Hampshire remains an open and welcoming place to all,” state Rep. Ed Butler, D-Harts Locations, said ahead of the hearing. “My hope is that the committee will listen to the diverse coalition of Granite Staters that will speak today and give House Bill 478 a favorable recommendation.”
Attending the hearing were business and faith leaders, public safety officials, health care professionals, educators and members of the transgender community.
“Over my years in the legislature, I can recall few bills that have brought together a larger and more diverse coalition of stakeholders than HB 478,” Rep. Caroletta Alicea, D-Boscawen, told the committee. “That is because Granite Staters believe that everyone should be treated equally and fairly under the law. [….] And we believe that House Bill 478 will promote these shared values.”
Currently, New Hampshire is the only state in New England that does not afford explicit statewide protections to transgender individuals. This is troubling to those interested in attracting and retaining businesses and top talent in an increasingly competitive business climate, including the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, which endorsed the measure.
In his testimony before the committee, Joseph Reilly, New Hampshire Regional President of Eastern Bank, explained why business leaders support HB 478:
“I had a recent opportunity to meet with an individual representing the LGBTQ community at the University of New Hampshire, Durham. He told me that upon graduation, numerous graduating young adults do not stay in New Hampshire because they fear discrimination and would prefer to offer their talents in more welcoming nondiscriminatory states. With such a workforce shortage facing our great state, it further reinforces the importance of anti-discrimination protections.”
The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, and other community members endorsed the legislation, stating the law is needed to increase public safety.
“It is important that all people feel equally protected under the law. Transgender persons should experience these protections, and non-transgender persons should not be victimized by anyone,” Jessica Eskeland, public policy specialist for the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said. “No one should experience fear: fear of being victimized or denied rights because of a fear of what might happen if a third party violates the law. We don’t deny one group of people a right because others may abuse the law that affords another group a right. It is for this reason that transgender public accommodations should be the law everywhere across America.”
Still, for most people attending the hearing, their support came because discrimination impacts their lives or the lives of someone they love.
“I support HB 478 because I hope for a future where I am judged on the merits of my hard work and being a good citizen, not treated differently because I am transgender.” Sarah Huckman, a transgender teenager from West Ossipee, told the committee.
The committee will vote on whether to give HB 478 a favorable recommendation or not in the coming days.