New Hampshire may be small but it has an outsized national political significance.
Which is precisely why transgender Americans like myself were watching the Granite State’s House of Representatives so closely on Wednesday: A win for transgender rights bill HB 1319 wouldn’t just be significant for the estimated 4,500 transgender people in New Hampshire, but for anyone who wants to see such protections spread even further beyond progressive bastions like the West Coast and more liberal parts of New England.
And that win came, as the Associated Press reported, in the form of a decisive 195-129 vote in favor of HB 1319—all in a Republican-controlled legislative body, no less.
HB 1319—which adds gender identity to New Hampshire’s existing non-discrimination legislation in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations—will have to clear the Senate next, and then be signed by Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who has already suggested he will support the bill.
But if that happens, New Hampshire will not only fill the only remaining gap in transgender protections in the New England region, it will give more hope to people in “purpler” and even “redder” parts of the country that transgender rights can one day become a bipartisan issue.
Indeed, if you cross-reference the latest Gallup data on state political ideology with the Transgender Law Center’s map of states that protect citizens based on gender identity, a heartening fact comes into focus: New Hampshire could become one of the more conservative-leaning states to date to move to protect transgender people.
Sure, New Hampshire’s a long way from Mississippi but a perennial swing state—especially one that votes first in the primaries—could add momentum to a transgender rights fight that has so far found the most success in Democratic strongholds.
“A lot of people really look to New Hampshire as an indication for the way the rest of the country’s gonna go,” Linds Jakows, campaign manager for Freedom New Hampshire told me.
For Jakows and their organization, the victory in the House today is the culmination of two years’ worth of work.
A previous version of HB 1319 known as HB 478 failed to pass in 2017 after anti-LGBT groups deployed the usual scare tactics about transgender protections leading to increased sexual predation, even though states that have already passed such laws have seen no such problem.
Last year, a socially conservative organizations called Cornerstone asked Granite Staters to send form letters to their representatives saying that HB 478 would “[put] the safety of women at children at risk.”
What happened between the failure of HB 478 in 2017 and Wednesday’s successful House vote on HB 1319, Jakows told me, was a lot of talking: a “pretty serious community education campaign” that included panel discussions like “Ask A Trans Person Anything.”
“We had a lot of transgender and allied constituents of Republican representatives who did vote to table last year’s bill just ask to meet for coffee and share their personal stories about why this matters to them,” Jakows said.
That doesn’t mean they successfully resolved every New Hampshire legislator’s issues with HB 1319.
The hour-long debate leading up to the vote was as nasty as ever, with plenty of transphobic fear-mongering scattered between impassioned defenses of transgender rights. But to go from a 187-179 vote to table the bill last year to a 195-129 vote in favor this year is pretty solid proof that transgender people sharing their stories can change hearts and minds—even Republican ones.
Linda Fishbaugh, the mother of a transgender daughter living in North Hampton, New Hampshire, told me that she watched this process happened firsthand.
She and her 16-year-old daughter Emily testified in favor of HB 1319 and then, she says, a local Republican representative approached her and told her, “Last year, I voted no. This year, I’m voting yes because of you and Emily.”
Fishbaugh is a Republican raised in a religious household who considers herself socially liberal but fiscally conservative—and she thinks the social change that has happened in a New Hampshire over the last year can be replicated elsewhere.
“New Hampshire’s slogan is ‘Live Free or Die,’ so a lot of people just want to mind their own business,” she told me, laughing. “But this is different: I think we all know more people that are transgender and when you meet them, you cannot discriminate against them.”
(It was Emily who gave me the best analysis of the bill, when she told me, simply and excitedly, “I think it’s awesome!”)
The success of a bill like this in a state like New Hampshire, with its unique ideological blend—according to Gallup data, it is about 31 percent conservative, 39 percent moderate, and 25 percent liberal—could be a strong indicator of progress to come.
So far, there are fairly comprehensive transgender protections in most of New England, the West Coast, and a growing number of non-coastal states like Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, and New Mexico.
But New Hampshire, much like Minnesota or New Mexico, comes much closer to being a microcosm of the political makeup of the United States as a whole than the majority of states that have passed transgender protections so far. According to Gallup, about 36 percent of Americans now consider themselves conservative, 34 percent moderate, and 25 percent liberal.
Compare that ratio to the New Hampshire numbers and you’ll know why there’s such excitement in LGBT circles over the HB 1319 vote: If transgender people can win in New Hampshire, we can win in America.