The state House of Representatives put transgender rights one step away from the governor's desk Wednesday.
Lawmakers voted 195-129 to send the Senate a bill adding gender identity to existing state anti-discrimination laws.
New Hampshire would be the last New England state to do so.
Linds Jakows is a non-binary transgender person who campaigned for the bill with Freedom New Hampshire. Jakows, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, was near tears as they talked about the victory after.
"We know that most people haven't yet met someone who's transgender,” they say. “And it becomes easy to believe those fear-mongering stories that we all hear when you actually haven't connected a face and a real story to the issue of discrimination."
Some opponents believe the bill will create safety issues in public restrooms.
“If a violent man wants to harm a woman, all he has to do is say he identifies as a woman and he can go wherever he pleases,” said Rep. Jeanine Notter, a Republican from Merrimack who spoke against the bill Wednesday. “Never again will there be a safe space for women.”
To Gerri Cannon, fears like those are unfounded. But she says transgender people like herself do need protection. Years ago, Cannon says, she was unfairly fired from a job after starting her transition.
On Wednesday, she wore a rainbow scarf to watch the vote from the House gallery. She was literally on the edge of her seat as the results came in, and cheered when the bill passed.
“What’s going to happen here is that transgender people are going to be able to feel comfortable with themselves and with their community, and we’ll thrive like everybody else in the community,” she said.
WATCH the reaction as House Speaker Gene Chandler announces the vote tally:
Cannon and others who support the bill argue it will prevent the housing and workplace discrimination that can drive transgender people's high rates of homelessness and suicide.
Bradley Garcia of Hudson isn’t transgender, but says he wants the freedom to be androgynous without being “chastised.”
Garcia wears his long pink hair in a ponytail, and says men in public bathrooms sometimes tell him he must be in the wrong place.
“I can’t even imagine how frustrating and sort of debilitating it must be to actually identify, say, as male, and to walk into a male bathroom and to be denied the right to be who you are,” Garcia says, “not just because you associate with stereotypically male things but because you actually identify as male.”
Supporters like Garcia are optimistic the bill has the momentum to win approval from the state Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu.
House lawmakers also rejected two bills Wednesday that would have prohibited gender reassignment surgery for minors, and barred Medicaid coverage for hormone therapies.