For Transgender Woman, State Motto Means Being Able to ‘Live Free’ As Her True Self February 22, 2018

For Jillian Leigh of Portsmouth, one of the best things about New Hampshire—and a reason why she moved here from Massachusetts many years ago—is the state’s motto: “Live free or Die.”

“Because freedom is more important than anything,” she says, “and that includes being free to be your true self.”

For Jillian and other transgender people, being able to live as her “true self” is something that has taken her a lifetime to be able to do safely, even though she knew “instinctively” as a child that she “should have been the other gender,” instead of the boy she was raised as.

That was a point she made to lawmakers during the Judiciary Committee hearings on HB 1319, legislation that would update New Hampshire’s non-discrimination law to explicitly protect transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations like restaurants, retail shops and hospitals.

“For many transgender folks, the only choice, other than transitioning, is to live a life of misery.”

“Some people have tried to convince this committee that being transgender is a choice. They might mean well, but, with all due respect, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” she testified.

“For many transgender folks, the only choice, other than transitioning, is to live a life of misery.”

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For many years, Jillian thought she was alone in how she felt. She buried her true self—her feminine self—because she didn’t want it to impact her marriage or her children.

“Those of us who choose to transition know that we risk everything—our marriages, our relationships with our children, our families, our friends, our jobs and careers, our financial stability, everything,” she says.

But eventually she couldn’t deny it anymore. She said many years of therapy, prayer, and exerting all her willpower never got rid of that feeling she’d felt her own life: That her body don’t match how she felt inside. So she hopped on a plane to Atlanta, to attend the annual Southern Comfort Transgender Conference, where transgender people can meet each other and build community.

“When you’re in hiding, and you’re not part of any community, you tend to think you’re one of the few. Then you realize that there’s millions of us, and that we’re hardwired this way.”

There, her world changed.

“When you’re in hiding, and you’re not part of any community, you tend to think you’re one of the few. Then you realize that there’s millions of us, and that we’re hardwired this way,” she says.

“You come to that realization, and you allow yourself to be who you are. “Then, if you’re like me, you find out that who you should have been is the opposite gender.”

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Today, Jillian is able to live as the woman she knows herself to be, and is happier than she’s ever been. She continues to pursue her career as a consultant and fundraiser for non-profits.

But that life has come at some cost. Because New Hampshire has no explicit nondiscrimination protections for transgender people, living as her true self has opened Jillian to the possibility of being discriminated against.

That’s why Jillian is doing everything she can to ensure that HB1319 passes. And she’s not just doing it for herself. Sometimes she worries that her daughter could be targeted for bullying or harassment because her parent is transgender—or if she herself doesn’t conform to traditional gender roles.

“The transgender adults who have transitioned and then been kicked out of their apartments, or fired from their jobs, they can’t wait. And the transgender kids and adults in New Hampshire who are contemplating suicide, today, they absolutely can’t wait.”

Jillian also knows many transgender people who have been fired from their jobs or denied housing, just for being who they are. They can’t wait any longer for these protections. And the transgender children growing up today deserve to know they’ll have the same opportunities as their peers.

“The transgender adults who have transitioned and then been kicked out of their apartments, or fired from their jobs, they can’t wait,” she told lawmakers during her testimony. “And the transgender kids and adults in New Hampshire who are contemplating suicide, today, they absolutely can’t wait.”

“I’ve met so many great people in this community, and so many allies—gay and lesbian allies, parents of transgender children, clergy, police chiefs, teachers—it’s been incredibly gratifying. We’re on the right track.”

Whether or not transgender people will continue to face discrimination that makes it harder for them to work, put a roof over their heads and participate in public life is up to lawmakers now. But Jillian has seen the rapid growth in support for these protections, and that makes her hopeful.

“I’ve met so many great people in this community, and so many allies—gay and lesbian allies, parents of transgender children, clergy, police chiefs, teachers—it’s been incredibly gratifying. We’re on the right track.”