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In testimony and rally, crowds oppose Republican-backed bills targeting LGBTQ youth

A crowd gathers at the N.H. State House to oppose several bills dealing with the rights of LGBTQ+ youth, Tuesday, March 7, 2023.
Zoey Knox
/
NHPR
A crowd gathers at the N.H. State House to oppose several bills dealing with the rights of LGBTQ+ youth, Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

Large crowds showed up at the New Hampshire State House Tuesday to push back on a slate of Republican-sponsored bills that would curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ youth.

“Passing these bills would be a huge step in the wrong direction,” said Jules Good, one of the rally attendees. “And it makes me feel less safe living here as a trans person.”

The proposals before New Hampshire lawmakers include bills to restrict access to gender-affirming care and to classify such care as child abuse. Republicans in both the House and the Senate have also brought forward updated versions of a parental rights bill that narrowly failed to pass last year, after Gov. Chris Sununu and others raised concerns that it could violate the rights of LGBTQ students.

These new efforts come as conservative lawmakers across the country are pursuing similar laws affecting LGBTQ youth, including other restrictions on gender-affirming care and rules over how gender and sexuality are addressed in schools.

In New Hampshire, the legislation has drawn opposition from a broad coalition that includes the ACLU of New Hampshire, Waypoint Youth Services, the New Hampshire Council of Churches, health providers and others. New Hampshire’s child advocate, a state-appointed watchdog with broad oversight for child welfare, also testified against the parental bills of rights Tuesday.

Linds Jakows, founder of the group 603 Equality, speaks at a rally opposing several bills dealing with the rights of LGBTQ+ youth at the State House, Tuesday, March 7, 2023.
Zoey Knox
/
NHPR
Linds Jakows, founder of the group 603 Equality, speaks at a rally opposing several bills dealing with the rights of LGBTQ+ youth at the State House, Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

Gender affirming care

The most sweeping of the bills, HB 619, would ban gender-affirming care for people under 18 and legalize conversion therapy — the discredited practice of trying to change someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation — in some circumstances.

It would also require schools to use the names and pronouns students used upon enrollment, and would bar trans students from bathrooms or sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Republican Rep. Terry Roy of Deerfield, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he hoped to start a “public discussion” about gender-affirming treatments for minors, which he characterized as a “relatively new area of medicine.”

The country’s major medical groups — including theAmerican Medical Association, theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics, theAmerican Psychiatric Association and theEndocrine Society — all support gender-affirming care for children and adolescents.

Multiple local doctors also spoke out in opposition to HB 619 at the State House Tuesday. They told lawmakers that gender-affirming care — which for minors can include social affirmation, counseling, puberty blockers and hormone therapy in adolescence — is evidence-based treatment that can be critical for the mental health of trans and nonbinary youth.

Read more: Bans on gender-affirming care would have a 'catastrophic' impact on LGBTQ youth in NH, health providers warn

Studies have found access to gender-affirming care is associated withreduced depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.

Dr. Simrun Bal of Hanover, who spoke on behalf of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said transgender teens face “heartbreaking” rates of suicide when they don’t have supportive social environments or affirming medical care.

“I want you to imagine for a moment putting yourself in my shoes as a physician, or as a parent or a teacher, and remembering kind of that pain that you may experience if some child's life ends too early because of suicide due to the harms that this bill propagates,” Bal said.

Trans and nonbinary youth and adults, as well as parents of trans children, spoke out against the bill. They shared personal stories about their own or their children’s mental health improving notably as their gender identity was affirmed.

“I've talked to some of my trans friends and it saddens me to see how scared we all are because of this bill,” Grey Dunlap, of Concord, told lawmakers. “Taking away gender-affirming health care is going to make trans kids feel like they have no purpose in this world.”

Democrats have proposed a separate bill that would protect people from out of state who seek gender-affirming care in New Hampshire.

Some LGBTQ Granite Staters who attended the morning’s rally said they feel like they’re under attack by the wave of recent legislation in New Hampshire and other states.

“I moved to New Hampshire as a refuge from the Midwest because of the homophobia and danger I faced in the Midwest,” said Haley, who asked that only their first name be used. “And less than a year later, these attacks started. And it feels like I might not be safe anywhere in the U.S.”


Parental rights and LGBTQ students

Lawmakers also heard hours of testimony Tuesday on proposals to create a parental bill of rights for New Hampshire. These largely codify existing rights of parents to direct the care and education of their children. But they add specific provisions that could affect the privacy and rights of transgender and other LGBTQ+ students.

The Senate version is co-sponsored by the entire Republican caucus. Republican Sen. Sharon Carson said under this proposal, schools would have to tell parents who inquire whether their child has changed their pronouns, gender identity or name in school.

“If the parent asks the question of the school district, they must answer that question honestly,” she said. “They cannot lie to a parent.”

Currently, a number of school districts have policies in place designed to protect the privacy of LGBTQ+ students, including not informing parents if students have changed their names or pronouns at school. These policies were the subject of several local political campaigns in 2022 and are currently the subject of a lawsuit against the Manchester School District before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Unlike last year’s version, lawmakers’ new parental rights proposal does not require schools to proactively inform parents if a child expresses questions or a change in their gender identity, sexuality, or participates in clubs such as a gay/straight alliance.

But both proposals drew pushback from those who said they could put LGBTQ+ students in danger and subject teachers and schools to unfounded lawsuits and complaints.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 359 people signed electronically in support and 1,346 signed in opposition to the Senate bill. Many residents who wanted to testify were turned away after nearly three hours.

Among the opponents is New Hampshire's child advocate, a state government watchdog focusing on child welfare. Cassandra Sanchez called the language of the Senate bill “dangerously broad” and said it could have a “chilling effect” on the relationship between children and school staff, who are often the first to report child abuse and neglect to authorities.

Grace Murray, of Amherst, said she appreciated the good intentions of the bill but feared it would come at the expense of some student’s well-being.

“If this bill passes, it makes schools a negative surveillance environment that's not conducive to children's learning or the teachers ability to teach,” she warned.

The parental rights bill sponsored by Republican House leadership received similar criticism, but its supporters said the wording around gender and sexuality was sufficiently narrow to avoid discrimination against LGBTQ+ students.

“This bill does not say a child cannot transition. This does not say that the child cannot come out at school and be called by whatever names or pronouns,” said Republican Rep. Jeffrey Greeson, one of the sponsors of the bill.

“All it says is that they must have parental consent and knowledge. And I'm not really sure how that is harmful and dangerous.”

As of late afternoon on Tuesday, many residents were still waiting to testify in person. Around 820 people signed up online in support of the bill, and 1,590 were opposed.

Corrected: March 8, 2023 at 2:35 PM EST
An earlier version of this story used incorrect pronouns for Haley, who asked that only their first name be used. The piece has been updated to correct that error.
Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.
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