CONCORD, N.H. — Hundreds gathered in the cold Tuesday morning outside the State House to denounce pending legislation that would curtail the privacy of LGBTQ people, including a bill that would require New Hampshire schools to “out” transgender students to their parents.
Demonstrators carried handmade signs with messages like “Leave trans kids alone” as they listened to speakers outside. Many then set their signs aside to go inside and testify against Senate Bill 272, which would require schools to answer “truthfully and completely” when parents ask about their child’s gender expression.
Riley Weis, a junior at Milford High School, said enacting SB 272 would endanger some of their friends and classmates who come from unaccepting families.
“I should not be here right now,” Weis told the Senate Education Committee. “I should be in school studying with my friends, but instead I am here trying to protect myself and my community.”
The demonstration and testimony on Tuesday reflect a renewed clash over “parental rights” legislation in New Hampshire. While LGBTQ advocates warn about harms to an especially vulnerable class of young people, some Republican lawmakers said they are responding appropriately to concerns about how schools handle sensitive student information and instructional material involving sexuality.
A parental rights bill died in the House last year after Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, vowed to veto it. It’s not yet clear whether this year’s version could sooth Sununu’s qualms. He hasn’t weighed in.
Senator Sharon Carson, the lead sponsor of SB 272, said she believes her revised bill satisfies concerns that were raised last year. While the current version would require schools to disclose information to parents upon request, an old version had sought to require disclosure automatically whenever a child talks to a teacher about their gender or sexuality, she noted.
Carson said the bill strikes a balance and directly addresses a dispute that has been top of mind in New Hampshire, as the Manchester School District defends its policy that prevents district personnel from disclosing a child’s “transgender status” to parents without the student’s permission. A dispute stemming from that case is pending before the state Supreme Court.
To lawfully withhold information from a parent under SB 272, school personnel would have to prepare a written report that explains the factual basis for “a compelling state interest” to infringe parental rights. Carson suggested that schools shouldn’t rely on a student’s apprehension about disclosing information to their family to justify nondisclosure.
“A school that accepts a child’s concern about parental rejection is placing its judgment in the hands of someone who is too young to purchase alcohol, too young to get a tattoo, too young to vote, too young to consent to most medical treatment,” she said.
“Our society believes that age is related to judgment,” she added. “Authorizing children to censor and restrict parental knowledge is completely inconsistent with this.”
The legislation, which would establish “a parents’ bill of rights in education,” specifies that parents are entitled to know whether their child is using a new gender identity or name at school, whether schools are affirming or accommodating a child’s “asserted gender identity,” and what clubs and extracurricular activities their child joins.
Despite opposition from teachers, mental health professionals, and faith leaders, the Senate Education Committee voted 3-2, along party lines, to advance the bill with a recommendation that the full Senate pass the measure.
The motion came from Republican Senator Carrie Gendreau, the committee’s vice chair, who cited the Bible as supporting her belief that God created only two genders.
“That’s where I’m coming from,” she said, “and that’s why it grieves me when we’re dealing with issues like this.”
The House, meanwhile, considered its own version of a parental rights bill on Tuesday.
Many states with Republican-controlled legislatures have enacted similar measures, fueled by parents’ frustration with schools that boiled over during the coronavirus pandemic. And it was the first bill that U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy formally announced earlier this month, fulfilling a major part of the GOP’s election campaign platform last year.
New Hampshire lawmakers also considered legislation on Tuesday that would ban gender-affirming health care for minors; ban teaching about gender identity in public schools, and weaken the state’s ban on so-called conversion therapy.
State lawmakers across the country have been approving measures aimed at LGBTQ individuals, from bills targeting trans athletes and drag performers to measures limiting gender-affirming care. Republican lawmakers in more than two dozen states have pushed for bans on gender-affirming care this year, targeting what doctors and psychologists widely consider medically necessary.
New Hampshire lawmakers also are considering a bill sponsored by Democrats to provide protections to out-of-state patients accessing gender-affirming health care in New Hampshire.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.