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By ELODIE REED
A bathroom bill in North Carolina – and the ensuing firestorm – led the transgender community to speak out about discrimination, equality and understanding in the Granite State.
Transgender rights will remain in focus during the 2017 legislative session after state Rep. Ed Butler of Harts Location filed a proposal to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
New Hampshire’s state Senate unanimously rejected a similar bill in 2009. But if Butler is successful this time around, the state will join the rest of New England in having such a law.
In the meantime, a similar anti-discrimination measure was implemented by executive order this past summer by Gov. Maggie Hassan, protecting all employees in state government.
That’s what prompted Laconia resident and longtime New Hampshire Employment Security employee Mikayla Bourque to be interviewed by the Monitor.
As one of the state’s first openly transgender employees, she said she was eager about the prospect of her health insurance covering gender reassignment surgery under the new executive order.
Yet Bourque said she “felt more unsafe” than she had in years due to the political climate and focus on the “bathroom bill” debate, which originated with North Carolina’s passage of a law mandating people use the bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates.
In her own daily routine, Bourque said she was told she was in the wrong bathroom several times at a Gilford movie theater. At Wal-Mart, she was followed by teenagers calling her a “man in a dress.”
In addition to Bourque, others who were part of the Monitor’s“Living Transgender” series published in August shared a wide range of personal experiences.
Several University of New Hampshire students questioned whether they belonged on the men’s or women’s sports team, or in athletics at all.
Concord High School embraced the normality that Ray Ramsey felt as a transgender man, and named him the first transgender Homecoming king in 2013.
Dr. Jennifer Madden of Amherst talked about doing what she could to help transgender patients. As someone who said she transitioned herself, she knew the barriers to medical care facing the transgender community.
For Concord salon owner Kae Mason and her family, their Bow cul-de-sac community embraced them, supporting her; her wife, Monica; and the couple’s children as everyone navigated the transition.
Even more voices were added to the transgender experience in New Hampshire earlier this year, when the advocacy group Freedom New Hampshire formed.
The group’s website has been posting stories from other transgender Granite Staters, and it’s also pushing to get an anti-discrimination law passed like the one Rep. Butler has proposed.
Less than 1 percent of New Hampshire residents identify as transgender, according to estimates by the Williams Institute think tank, or between 2,700 and 7,362 adults.
And getting the word out is an ongoing challenge. For instance, when Kae Mason attended Freedom New Hampshire’s first-ever transgender health summit at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Nov. 19, she was disappointed not to see more of those adults. About 200 registered for the event.
“The attendance was abysmal,” she said. And that seems to be the current trend in New Hampshire’s transgender community: What resources are available are not reaching their intended audience.
“People’s intentions are generally good,” Mason said. “Sadly, I wish we really had more of a movement that had bite to it. That had a grasp on finishing things up.”
Through advertising transgender-friendly service at her business, Salon K in Concord, and using social media to tell her transition story, Mason has already taken to more community organizing on her own.
Mason said she plans on taking her involvement another step.
“I really want to run for some sort of office next election,” she said. She would be the second openly transgender elected official if she won.
From the vantage point of an elected seat, Mason said she feels she could make a bigger difference for the transgender community.
“I feel like I could follow through on things a little better,” she said.