As tumultuous as the past week has been, it is nothing compared to the soul-searching Stacie Laughton has been doing for most of her life.
On Thursday, she ceremoniously signed her letter of resignation on camera, at the Access Nashua cable access TV station. State Rep. Ken Gidge, a fellow Democrat and friend, was her witness.
It read simply, "I regret to inform you that I am unable to fill the State Representative seat for Hillsborough County District 31 to which I was recently elected."
And then Laughton took about an hour to tell her story.
"I just wanted a chance to defend myself," said Laughton, after the taping.
Following her election in Ward 4 to serve as state rep, Laughton had to answer for her past as a convicted felon. A story published in the Laconia Daily Sun chronicled a period of Laughton's life when she was still living as a man, under her given name, Barry C. Laughton Jr.
Laughton is transsexual, meaning she identifies as a female.
The story stirred a call from Republican leadership in Concord for her to resign. Initially, Laughton vowed to not give up. Then, she agreed to resign after speaking with Democratic Party leaders. On Wednesday, she reversed herself on that decision, saying she would wait to see whether, legally, she could hold on to her seat as a state representative.
A request was made to Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Brown to examine the case, and he determined quickly that the situation was "more complicated" than initially thought. He said he was looking at the language of NH's voting code, specifically the term "final discharge," as it applied to two suspended sentences which Laughton did not have to serve time for.
Brown has not rendered a decision on that yet.
But by Thursday, Laughton just wanted to move past it all. That is when she announced she would make her decision publicly, via Gidge's cable access show political show, "Gidge World," on Access Nashua.
"After I changed my mind and said I wasn't going to resign, I didn't get any calls from within the party. It was the barrage of calls form reporters and all the comments made on the different news sites that got me feeling like it was time to put it to rest. But I never once believed I'd done anything wrong in this process. I believed – and still do – that I had satisfied the requirements of the corrections department, or I wouldn't have run in the first place," Laughton said.
"I believed that once you finish your probation and parole, you are all done. I really just wanted the chance to get on with my life and serve the people," Laughton said.
She explained that during the time she lived in Laconia, through all her legal troubles, her case was written about in all the newspapers, from local to statewide, and that she naturally assumed people had a general knowledge of her past.
"How do you know what people know?" she said.
Short of wearing a scarlet "C" on her chest, or introducing herself to everyone as "Stacie Laughton, convicted felon," she said she wasn't sure how to present herself to voters; but she says she was always willing to talk about it, if asked.
"I thought as a society we'd moved past that kind of 'Scarlet Letter' mentality," Laughton said. "I do think citizens have a right to know what's in our background when we run for office. I want to be honest about who I am."
At 28, Laughton has never felt more settled – she lived the first 23 years of her life as Barry Laughton Jr., never really comfortable with her male identity.
"I'd really like to forget my teen years – I gave my parents a lot of trouble, and I've apologized to my mother plenty of times for those years. I wasn't an easy teenager to raise," Laughton said.
"But the fact that I'm standing here today, as the person I am, is a credit to my parents. Who knows what would've happened to me, if not for the intervention I had at a young age. I don't know if I'd be alive today," Laughton said.
She said she has struggled with mental illness and spent two years in her teens attending a school in Connecticut. When she returned home to Nashua, life was even more difficult.
In fact, she was arrested twice in Nashua before she was 20 – police confirmed that in 2002 she was charged with domestic violence/criminal mischief, after a heated argument with her father during which she smashed a plate.
And in 2003 she was charged with sexual assault, an incident Laughton explains involved a woman from whom she was renting a rorom.
"Those charges were eventually dropped," Laughton said. "In fact, she still lives in the city, and we see each other from time to time, and we are pleasant. It's as if those years never happened."
She would like to take another shot at running for office, one day, because she feels called to public service.
"I lived for a lot of years in the darkness of who I was. For a lot of years, I believe I was acting out because of not being honest with my self or other people about who I really was, or my gender identification," Laughton said.
"After I got out of prison I felt like it was a new start for me. I began my transformation, from who I had been for all those years, to who I really was," Laughton said. "And ever since that that day, I do something, every day to try to better myself, or help someone else. I am trying to be the best person I can be, and put the past behind me, once and for all.