Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen: Reflecting on the Freedom New Hampshire Campaign

By Freedom for All Americans • June 27, 2019 • 2:04 pm

June 8, 2018 is a day I will never forget. 

On that day, the efforts of thousands of people across New Hampshire finally came to fruition when Republican Governor Chris Sununu signed comprehensive transgender nondiscrimination protections into law, ensuring that ALL LGBTQ Granite Staters would be protected from discrimination in housing, employment, and public spaces. There were moments of tears and triumph that day, and looking back, it’s easy to see why. 

Since 1998, New Hampshire has protected people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Between then and 2018, local advocates kept working hard, urging lawmakers to pass an updated bill to add gender identity to those protections. But the turning point came in 2016, when Freedom for All Americans joined our friends and partners at GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders), ACLU-NH, and independent organizers to create the Freedom New Hampshire coalitiona robust campaign reaching people of all different backgrounds with one common purpose: protect our transgender neighbors from discrimination 

fnh group

We had one guiding light: make the campaign about the real lived experiences of transgender people. As a transgender man myself, I know firsthand the kinds of misconceptions people sometimes have about our community. I was raised as a girl, but I always knew that didn’t fit, so I transitioned to live as the man I’ve long known myself to be. I’ve been fortunate enough to still get hired for jobs and keep a roof over my head, but that’s not true for everyone, so I’ve dedicated my life to making sure that every transgender person can have the same opportunities I’ve had 

By making this campaign about the personal stories of transgender Granite Staters, we were able to connect with both lawmakers and everyday voters like never before. We held panels where people could learn more about how discrimination affected their transgender neighbors; we set up meetings with lawmakers in every corner of the state to hear directly from their transgender constituents about the importance of passing this bill; and most importantly, we told the stories of trans people and their supportive friends, family, and coworkers. We put a face to the issue and connected on the shared human experiences and values of freedom and opportunity — and our efforts paid off.  

From the beginning of the 2018 session, throughout every step the bill took through the statehouse, legislators from across the political spectrum showed their support. In the end, over 40 Republican Representatives and Senators voted to protect their transgender constituents from discrimination, and a Republican Governor signed the bill into law. This incredible show of bipartisanship was a clear indication that our strategy was a winning one and became a defining transformative moment for the Granite State.  

fnh trans panel discussion

Photo of the ‘Ask a Trans Person Anything’ Panel, By Jason Moon for NHPR

Our success left a lasting impact in New Hampshire. Since our victory, advocates and allies across the state have continued to fight for the LGBTQ community in critical arenas from healthcare access to gender markers on drivers’ licenses. We also developed a strong corps of trained volunteers who now have the experience and the knowledge to continue advocating for their community. Not only did we build and execute a winning campaign, but we created a movement that with a significant ripple effect. 

Our strategy in New Hampshire is being replicated across the country in states like Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania; all three states currently have statewide nondiscrimination bills moving through their legislature, and groups there are working to build bridges similar to ours. Our win in New Hampshire also spurred on further victories — in November of 2018, the voters of Massachusetts overwhelmingly defended their state’s existing transgender nondiscrimination law at the ballot, and in January of this year, New York lawmakers passed legislation known as GENDA (The Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act), making the Empire State the twentieth to offer express and enduring statewide nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. The biggest victory thus far came in May, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, the first-ever comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill to make it through a chamber of Congress. 

The transgender movement is at a turning point in our country. The visibility of the transgender community is growing at an unprecedented rate, and people are open to learning more about their transgender neighbors than ever before. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change hearts and minds, and we must continue to keep up the momentum in order to make real, tangible change in the lives of transgender Americans. Winning nondiscrimination protections in a legislature many thought was stacked against us shows that with hard work, determination, and always keeping the best interests of the transgender community as the number one priority, change is possible.  

fnh leaders photo

We can’t afford to slow down now. Today there are still thirty states where LGBTQ people are not explicitly protected from discrimination in housing, employment, and public spaces. We have to take the lessons we’ve learned from campaigns like Freedom New Hampshire and keep applying them to our campaigns until every single one of us has the protections we need to thrive 

I’ve seen this work pay off firsthand. I believe in the power of our movement. I believe in our collective purpose and drive. I believe that we will see a day when all LGBTQ Americans are protected from discrimination. We have a chance to do just that with the Equality Act — a bill in Congress that will make express and enduring federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections a reality. The majority of Americans, including faith leaders, business owners, and a growing number of conservatives believe these protections are necessary — will you sign our pledge and show your support for this critical legislation? 

This fight isn’t over, not by a long shot; I know the time is coming when we will finally be able to say that the true American values of freedom, fairness, and equal opportunity can be realized for all.  

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