Christmas Tree Farmer Says #TransBillNH Offers Crucial Protections for Transgender Small Business Workers & Owners—like Her November 22, 2017

Thirty years later, Brooke Matthews finds herself right back where she was as a kid: farming Christmas trees in Colebrook, New Hampshire.

Brooke has been in the Christmas tree business since she was 13 years old. She worked, on and off, for a family in town who had their own tree farm. Then, three years ago, the owner asked her if she wanted to buy a plot of land and run her own farm.

She jumped at the chance. And though things have been pretty typical for her as a new small business owner—that is, busy, and barely breaking even—she’s happier than she’s ever been.

Brooke says she spent most of her life as an “overachiever.” But even after graduating from the University of New England in Maine, marrying, and landing a great job teaching at Thornton Academy, she was miserable, and couldn’t shake the idea of something she’d always felt, but never been able to put into words: She is transgender.

“I had achieved the quintessential American dream—but I was miserable, in every aspect of my life,” she says. “But then I came to that realization, and pushed through my shame and guilt and fear. The process made me stronger, and I came to grips with who I am.”

“I had achieved the quintessential American dream—but I was miserable, in every aspect of my life. But then I came to that realization, and pushed through my shame and guilt and fear. The process made me stronger, and I came to grips with who I am.” —Brooke Matthews, Freedom Firs

At first, she was pretty nervous about the change. She didn’t know how people would react, and—because she knows New Hampshire has no explicit non-discrimination protections for transgender people—a negative reaction could mean being shut out of public life.

“I kinda just said screw it. I’m going to be me and not care anymore,” she says, and made the decision to live as the woman she knew herself to be. “I was always very self-conscious. I put on a mask for everyone, and then I took that veneer off.”

Happily, though, Brooke found that the people who are most important to her were accepting. They include her sister, her grandmother, and “the most supportive, accepting, loving person” in her life, her partner Krissy. Though she and Krissy divorced at what Brooke describes as her “lowest point,” the two remained friends, and during Brooke’s transition, Krissy became—and contintues to be—a rock of support.

Her employees at Freedom Firs have also been really great, Brooke says. But other situations have been challenging, including interactions with her parents and at her church. Some people called her a sinner, and eventually she had to stop going.

“As an individual who is well educated, a hard worker, and who could be a benefit to any company, the idea that one would miss out on the opportunity to have me as an employee because of my gender identity is mind-boggling. I pay my bills, do my job, like everyone else, and it’s irritating that I can’t get equal protections.”

For the most part, though, life as a transgender woman has gone smoothly, even though it’s always in the back of her mind that, under New Hampshire law, she’s not protected from discrimination. New Hampshire is the only New England state without explicit protections from discrimination for transgender people.

“I walk down the street freely, and don’t get harassed—to my face. There are comments behind my back, and muttering.”

It helps that Brooke is self-employed. If she were to seek out other employment, she could be turned down just because of who she is.

“As an individual who is well educated, a hard worker, and who could be a benefit to any company, the idea that one would miss out on the opportunity to have me as an employee because of my gender identity is mind-boggling,” she says. “I pay my bills, do my job, like everyone else, and it’s irritating that I can’t get equal protections.”

“My business is about freedom. Freedom to celebrate, regardless of religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, you can have a tree and enjoy it. That’s why I’m adamant about making sure everyone has equal opportunities.”

And because she’s committed to non-discrimination at Freedom Firs, her employees are protected. But she knows that without explicit, statewide transgender-inclusive protections in New Hampshire, many transgender workers won’t be so lucky.

“My business is about freedom. Freedom to celebrate, regardless of religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, you can have a tree and enjoy it,” she says. “That’s why I’m adamant about making sure everyone has equal opportunities.”

Ensuring equal opportunity means passing #TransBillNH, to explicitly protect transgender Granite Staters from discrimination in employment, housing and public places, like restaurants and retail shops.

Join our movement to pass these critical non-discrimination protections by signing our Freedom New Hampshire pledge.

And if you’re in need of a Christmas tree, starting December 1 Freedom Firs will be selling in Chichester (east of Concord) at 126 Dover Road and in Belmont at 73 Daniel Webster Hwy, across from Belknap Mall. Brooke will be staffing the Belmont location personally, if you would like to meet her.