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Bills limiting transgender rights, boosting parental rights head to Sununu’s desk

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Bills limiting transgender rights, boosting parental rights head to Sununu’s desk

May 16, 2024 | 6:21 pm ET
By Ethan DeWitt
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Bills limiting transgender rights, boosting parental rights head to Sununu’s desk
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The Senate met May 16 for a whirlwind day of bills, taking up legislation relating to transgender rights, bail reform, cannabis, voter ID law, and more. (Ethan DeWitt | New Hampshire Bulletin)

As a transgender girl, Sarah Huckman’s experience joining girls’ sports in high school wasn’t automatic, her father Tom Huckman recalled. Because she had not undergone gender reassignment surgery, she needed to appeal to the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association for an exception, a process that involved writing letters with the help of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.  

But once Sarah started participating in cross-country running, Nordic skiing, and track, she was quickly accepted by her friends and peers, Tom Huckman, of Ossipee, said at a press conference earlier this week.

“She’s a very social, gregarious person, and sports was absolutely one of the best things for her for her mental well-being,” Huckman said. 

On Thursday, the New Hampshire Senate passed a measure that would prohibit such participation and sent the legislation to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. 

The chamber voted to advance House Bill 1205, a bill that would bar transgender girls in grades five through 12 from participating in girls’ sports in public school, in a party-line vote opposed by Democrats. 

While Sununu has indicated he supports the bill’s intentions, it is not clear whether he will sign it. At a press conference Wednesday, Sununu declined to directly answer that question. But in other comments, he has made his position clear.

“I fundamentally don’t believe that biological boys should be competing in girls’ sports. I think it’s dangerous,” Sununu told WMUR in March. He declined to say then whether he would sign the bill.

On Wednesday, he said he would “potentially” sign a bill banning that participation but would need to review the final language. 

“I think the voices around fairness and safety are being heard not just here in New Hampshire, but all across the country,” Sununu said. “And something that we’re going to take very seriously.” 

The bill is one of several the Senate took up Thursday that would reduce the rights of transgender people in the state. The chamber also passed House Bill 619, which would bar those under 18 from receiving gender reassignment surgeries, and House Bill 1312, which would allow parents to opt their children out of any public school instruction in “sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.” 

Republicans argued that barring transgender girls from girls’ sports teams would restore safety and fairness.

HB 1205 would require public schools to determine a student’s biological gender by requesting the student produce a birth certificate. If that were not available, it would require the student to “provide other evidence indicating the student’s sex at the time of birth.” 

The bill would prevent athletic associations, such as the NHIAA, from entertaining complaints or investigating schools for enforcing gender separation on its sports teams.

And it would give any student who had suffered direct or indirect harm as a result of a school not enforcing the ban on transgender students the right to sue the school for injunctive relief or damages.

Supporters of the legislation have argued that transgender students born biologically male have physiologies that can favor them over cisgender students who were born biologically female. 

“Rights should not be created for some at the expense of others,” said Senate President Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, speaking from the Senate floor. “And unfortunately, if we don’t pass this bill, we are allowing that to happen.”

Opponents have disputed that, noting that many transgender students have undergone hormone therapies that reduce or eliminate that advantage. And they’ve said the bill would discriminate against students who identify with or have transitioned to another gender and don’t feel comfortable playing on the teams associated with their biological sex at birth.

Sen. Cindy Rosenwald argued that high school sports teams were meant to be about more than winning and losing. 

“Sports teaches you lessons that are about how to be part of a group,” she said. “And (they) also teach you how to lose gracefully.” 

HB 1205 passed, 13-10. Because it was not amended by the Senate, it does not need to return to the House for another vote, and is now on its way through the enrollment process and on to Sununu’s desk. 

Republicans said House Bill 1312, which also passed on a 13-10 vote, would give parents more control over their child’s classroom. The bill expands on the existing state law allowing parents to opt out of sex education classes, as long as parents and the school district agree on alternative instruction arranged by the parents. HB 1312 would add instruction on gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation to that list and would require teachers to give two weeks’ written notice to parents before teaching anything that instructed in those topics. 

“If schools are going to teach these sensitive subjects, parents ought to have the ability to review the material and make informed decisions about their child’s education,” said Sen. Tim Lang, a Sanbornton Republican. 

Democrats countered that the bill was broad and vague, and argued it could require teachers to give notice that they were teaching the children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings” because it deals with gender.

“This bill is one of the reasons why nobody wants to go into teaching,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat and former teacher. 

Lang has argued the opt-out would apply only to materials that are designed to instruct on gender and sexual orientation directly, not materials that happen to include it. 

Because the Senate added no amendments, HB 1312 will also head directly to the governor’s desk. 

In passing House Bill 619, Senate Republicans said they were attempting to block procedures that transgender teenagers might regret later in life. The bill would ban physicians from conducting metoidioplasties, phalloplasties, or vaginoplasties for people under 18, and would prevent doctors from making referrals to facilities out of state. 

“HB 619 will protect New Hampshire children from making a permanent decision that they’re too young to make,” said Sen. Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican. “And it’s a life-altering procedure that is irreversible.”

But Democrats countered that the law interfered with families’ ability to make personal decisions, and could stop children from making changes that could boost their well-being.

I’m not sure we should be legislating on this,” said Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat. “I think we should leave it to the medical profession, and parents, and minors to work through what seems appropriate in the light of medical information.”

Thursday’s string of votes were denounced by LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and 603 Equality. 

“Today the Senate turned its back on New Hampshire values and sent an extremely harmful message to all New Hampshire youth,” said Chris Erchull, a staff attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “…Transgender students need the opportunity to play sports for the same reason other kids do: to learn essential life skills as part of a team where they feel like they belong.”

Huckman said his daughter, who has since graduated, would have been “devastated” if she were barred from the girls’ teams in high school.

“It’s really the adults that have the problem, not the kids,” he said.