Keene’s City Council voted unanimously last Thursday to add transgender protections to its employee handbook, joining 10 other New Hampshire towns to have done so amid a statewide campaign.
The vote, 11-0, recommends the city manager “include in the employee handbook proper language to include gender identity and transgender identity as a protected class.”
Presently, the city is prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital or family status, veteran status or “any other characteristic protected by law.” The new language was drafted by city attorney Thomas P. Mullins.
Councilors also approved, 11-0, a March 7 letter from Mayor Kendall Lane expressing support for a bill in the state Legislature, HB 478, that would expand gender identity protections across New Hampshire. That bill, which would bar any employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity throughout New Hampshire, with exceptions given to religious organizations, was tabled in March after fierce disagreement in the N.H. House.
Thursday’s employee handbook change, by contrast, only affects city employees.
Proposed by Councilors Carl B. Jacobs and Bettina Chadbourne, the council motion comes as transgender rights have gained in prominence in recent months, both across New Hampshire and around the country.
But Jacobs and Chadbourne said the idea came from a student activist from the University of New Hampshire, Doug Marino, who contacted the councilors asking that they consider it.
Marino, a junior from Stratton, has been contacting a range of towns and cities in New Hampshire, hoping to encourage similar gender identity non-discrimination language in employment policies, and to add local momentum to the effort to change state law.
Speaking Sunday after the vote, Chadbourne praised Marino’s efforts, citing a letter he had written to the council urging the change.
An April 13 meeting of the council’s Finance and Organization Personnel Committee featured testimony from transgender people living in Keene on the importance of the motion, Chadbourne said.
Looking at the vote’s impact, she added she hopes the vote will send a strong message.
“I’m really happy that it went through, and I think it takes a lot of courage to choose to live your truth — to be who you really are,” she said. “We all should be able to live our lives with dignity.”
Other councilors appear to agree. Speaking ahead of the vote Thursday, Councilor Mitch Greenwald called the motion one of the more meaningful actions he’d been involved with, adding “It should have been there the whole time.”
And Lane supported the signal it would send to Concord.
“The strong position that the city of Keene and the City Council takes in regard to gender identity I think is incredibly important, both locally and at the state level,” he said.