Earlier this year Shana Aisenberg held her breath as elected officials in her home state of New Hampshire cast their votes on a bill that would secure comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for transgender people statewide. She had supported efforts to pass legislation like this for several years, and this year, under the strategic direction of the Freedom New Hampshire campaign, she had helped foster a vibrant and wide-ranging conversation on why nondiscrimination protections matter. Still, she wasn’t sure what would happen – and as the votes came in and she added them up in her head, she realized that finally, at least, transgender Granite Staters like her would be protected from discrimination in employment, housing, public spaces, and every other area of life. Freedom for All Americans is proud to be a founding and leading member of Freedom New Hampshire.
Shana is thrilled to have made an impact in the fight for #TransBillNH, especially her involvement on the Steering Committee for the campaign. But she also knows that she has made a different kind of impact in her daily life through her professional work as a music teacher at The Community School in a rural town in the Lakes Region of the state. She has helped educate her colleagues and experienced a welcoming community, led by Lianne Prentice, the director of the school.
Shana and Lianne shared their story with Freedom New Hampshire last year to educate lawmakers and everyday Granite Staters about the importance of passing #TransBillNH. Now, Freedom for All Americans checks in with them about the victory and, as we recognize Labor Day, why employers should support, encourage, and care for their transgender employees.
FFAA: How does it feel to be involved in the victorious fight for transgender protections in New Hampshire?
Lianne: This was such a super win for the state to recognize that Live Free or Die is a slogan that we can all be proud of as New Hampshire residents. As an employer, I hope it’s a next step for people to be aware that they’re going to have in their workforce all kinds of people. The compassionate and ethical thing is to plan for safe workplaces for all people, but now it’s also the legal thing, so I hope this encourages people to step up their game in terms of creating responsible workplaces.
Shana: I’ve been involved with attempts to pass this bill all three legislative sessions where we tried to pass this bill, including in 2009. This past year, I represented TGNH on the steering committee, Transgender New Hampshire. The bill was absolutely affecting to me and has a big impact on my life. My employer has been great for a long time, but I had experienced discrimination in the past, which is part of why I felt like it was so important to be involved.
The compassionate and ethical thing is to plan for safe workplaces for all people, but now it’s also the legal thing, so I hope this encourages people to step up their game in terms of creating responsible workplaces. – Lianne Prentice
I was in the Senate Gallery the day the bill passed, of course with no idea on whether or not we’d get it passed. I had testified every step of the way for every committee, and to see it happen was amazing. To see it happen in a completely bipartisan way, where it was Democrats and Republicans saying that this is the right thing to do, that was amazing. Live Free or Die really means everyone’s rights should be respected and are respected.
The other thing I have to say is, the feeling of lightness that I had after that, just to realize that, wow, this is something real. I didn’t expect to feel personally any different from my normal day to day, but I really did feel, wow, after all of these years of lobbying for that, I really am a first class citizen in my state, just like everyone else. I can imagine other people around the state feeling the same way.
FFAA: Do you have any advice for employers who want to do the right thing but don’t know how?
Lianne: There are only 9-10 of us on the faculty, but we were at a faculty meeting, and we had a trans student joining us this year. And one of the teachers asked Shana if she had any advice for the student or community’s sake about how to create a better space for transgender or gender nonconforming people. Shana gave us this really simple step we could do: Incorporate inclusion of pronoun identification whenever we introduce ourselves.
The way you framed it, Shana, you said, “You all have the privilege of not having to identify yourself to be known,” and that really respectful, subtle reframing that you did made me realize, yes, of course we have to do this. It’s such an easy thing to do. Because it is a privilege to walk through the world and not have to think about perception and how that may impact me. Your willingness to engage with us in practicing policy was just super helpful.
And not every employer is going to have a stakeholder or will have a go-to person, but we’re lucky that we have someone to go to and craft model practices. But employers do need to take that step back like I did and think, ‘What is it that we all should feel and be in the workplace so we can really get to work, without our emotional being taking up emotional and physical energy? If we can think about our policy that way – we want the best of our employees, and that means we’re hiring them for their skill set – we should make any plans possible to allow their skill set to shine. Because they’re there as valuable assets to a group and company. So thank you, Shana!
FFAA: What are other ways that employers and colleagues can support each other when it comes to LGBTQ and especially transgender issues, Shana?
Shana: With our school, the fact is that there have been trans and gender nonconforming kids in school before, and we live in a tiny, rural town in New Hampshire. I transitioned in 2012, so everyone knew me before I transitioned. I was hired about a year after my transition, and it wasn’t ever discussed – there was no issue or something to ever talk about.
All of the bathrooms in the building – because people love to talk about bathrooms – were all single-use and didn’t have any signs on them anyway. There were no gender markers. But I do love this story of how two years ago, I came in one day and kids were hearing about HB2 [the anti-transgender law passed in North Carolina in 2016], and someone had put on one of the bathrooms, ‘Human.’ Yesterday I walked in for the new school year, and someone made a new sign that said, “Mine, Yours, His, Hers, Theirs, Whatever.” The kids are all involved in making a safe space as well for other students, teachers, themselves, and that’s just wonderful.
I think all of that happened because the tone of the workplace is a complete nonissue. I’ve been told time and again that I was hired because I’m a great teacher, and I love to teach and work with these kids, and it’s great that it’s all a non-issue. And I love that yesterday we said, let’s go beyond saying it’s a non-issue to make sure people really know that they are safe. I am overjoyed to work somewhere where we are having these conversations and figuring out the proactive approaches to make the school a safe space for people of all genders, races, economic statuses.
Lianne: I think to me, one thing we don’t do enough in most places in our world, in our social groupings, is that we don’t work hard to make those spaces safe and inclusive for everyone. If you can create that culture in your workplace to make everyone feel valued and safe to be themselves, you have to work hard against a lot of different stereotypes. If you can make the culture of your workplace respectful and intolerant of demeaning people, you can make it great for everyone, no matter who you are. And that’s something our culture has really got to work on.
Read more about Shana and Lianne in their full profile with Freedom New Hampshire. And click here to make a donation to Freedom for All Americans and fuel future campaigns like Freedom New Hampshire.