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Transgender N.H. Lawmaker Comments on SCOTUS LGBT Victory

Alex McOwen for NHPR

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that employers cannot discriminate against LGBTQ workers under the Civil Rights Act.  

State Rep. Gerri Cannon, one of New Hampshire’s first openly transgender lawmakers, joined All Thing's Considered host Peter Biello to discuss the historic decision.

So what was your reaction when you heard the news about the SCOTUS decision?

It was impressive, especially with all the juggling of justices to have them say, “Okay, transgender people and gay and lesbian are people, just like everyone else.” 

Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your gender identity? 

Yes, about 15 year ago I got laid off from Hewlett-Packard. Yes I got laid off, at the same time someone else was hired into the job to do a job I had previously been doing. So it was frustrating, when I looked into legal assistance I find out that we had no legal cases or legal statutes to protect the transgender, gender identity community. 

On the SCOTUS decision, how do you think this ruling will transform things in New Hampshire and nationally?

I think it’s a start for many other communities. Here in New Hampshire it may not have a whole lot of impact. Our state has done a lot. The bill we passed in 2017 gave us the rights for employment, for housing, for public access. And then in the past couple years, we’ve added more to that, so any place in the statute that flags any disenfranchised group also includes gender identity and support.

So in New Hampshire, we’re treated like everyone else, including our health care, all the standard stuff, we can get. So state laws actually trump what’s going on in Washington, because we do have support for our residents. There’s still a few things to go but for the most part, we’re in very good shape. Being a transgender person, New Hampshire is a great place to live.

What are the next steps for protecting LGBT people in New Hampshire?

I have a bill that’s been in for the last couple years to make it easier for transgender people and nonbinary people to change birth records, to make it easier to get jobs. To have legal documentation to reflect the gender that they live as. It passed the house this year, but it passed both the house and senate last year and was vetoed by the governor.

So we’re working on that and part of the reason for doing that is right now it’s a very complex problem if someone wants to change their birth certificate and gender.

It can be done, but it’s really awkward. And a transgender person in New Hampshire may not go through the complete surgical procedures that is required by state law, because the procedure and the cost associated is actually a real struggle for people, but they’re transgender nonetheless

Same thing is true for me, I’ve had some procedures but not everything, however I was born in Massachusetts, and in Massachusetts I was able to take my information and my change in name and a form from my doctor that I live full time this way, and walk into the city hall where I was born and three hours later, after figuring out all the paperwork, I walked out with a new birth certificate and my new name, and it’s made my life tremendously easier.

Two black transgender women were killed last week. I wanted to ask if you saw any connection between the fight for trans rights and the current surge of the Black Lives Matter movement?

Absolutely, in our community black women are the highest death rate and suicide rate. And every year when we look at the transgender population and the deaths, black women are the hardest hit group. It shouldn’t have to be that way. Black lives matter whether they’re transgender or straight or gay, we really need to work on that in general.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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