SANDOWN — Locals are invited to ask anything, mundane or personal, to a panel of strangers on Thursday.
Those strangers will be transgender New Hampshire residents of all ages, taking part in "Ask a Trans Person," starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Sandown Public Library. They are opening up to combat false information and humanize their struggles, which are currently at the center of a contentious legislative battle.
Though they can be the target of hateful messages and rhetoric online, the speakers say the experience is often positive.
People show up at the events with scribbled down questions or pads of paper to take notes. They ask about anything from how one realizes they're transgender to how it impacts their religious beliefs.
"They're trying to navigate this new landscape," said Palana Belken, who will moderate the Freedom New Hampshire-sponsored event.
There are an estimated 4,500 transgender people in New Hampshire as of 2016 and 1.4 million across the country, which is double the number counted in 2011, according to the Williams Institute.
A large group of women showed up at a Jan. 31 panel in Pelham to learn more about how they could support a friend whose child had just come out as transgender. During another recent panel, a 7- or 8-year-old boy stood up and asked panelist Liam Magan, 24, if transitioning was scary. The young boy's sister had just come out as transgender.
"It was heartwarming. He really cared so much about his sister," Magan said.
The Epsom native will join a transgender woman and a participant who doesn't identify with a single gender on Thursday's panel. Past panels have included transgender people between 15 and 60 years of age.
The panelists can decide how much information they want to divulge, but are generally open to answering almost anything. Before getting involved in Freedom New Hampshire, Magan chronicled his transition and struggles for acceptance on YouTube.
"I think that a lot of the opposition comes from misunderstandings or different fears. If you can put a face to the name, it makes it a little bit easier to understand," Magan said.
"I think it's important, even more so now."
The state Legislature is currently reviewing a piece of legislation that would forbid discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on someone's gender identity. Lawmakers tabled a virtually identical bill last year.
New Hampshire the only New England state without any state laws expressly protecting transgender people from discrimination, according to GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). There are currently several exemptions in state housing laws, for example, that allow homeowners to turn away transgender applicants.
Earlier this month, a new Windham School District policy that allows transgender students to use locker rooms and restrooms that match the gender they identify with was hotly debated.
School Board member Tom Murray wrote in a public letter that "school officials cannot command their students to accept or celebrate ideas, values, or beliefs regarding sexual orientation and gender identity."
Both the Londonderry and Sanborn School Districts have transgender student policies currently in place.
Belken said that the "Ask A Trans Person" events go beyond state or school district policies.
"The panels are not just for this bill. This conversation will continue from town to town. It's just about starting a conversation," Belken said. "Whatever people walk away with, it's a good thing."