Bills that would curb LGBTQ+ rights draw 200 protesters to Statehouse

Karen Daniell of Stratham holds a “don’t make bigotry your legacy” sign outside the N.H. Statehouse as people gather Wednesday morning for the Live Free Rally in Concord. The rally urged Gov. Chris Sununu to veto recently passed bills that would curb rights for trans youth and adults across the state.

Karen Daniell of Stratham holds a “don’t make bigotry your legacy” sign outside the N.H. Statehouse as people gather Wednesday morning for the Live Free Rally in Concord. The rally urged Gov. Chris Sununu to veto recently passed bills that would curb rights for trans youth and adults across the state. HANNAH SCHROEDER—Keene Sentinel staff photo

By JAMES RINKER

The Keene Sentinel

Published: 05-30-2024 11:00 AM

Eighteen years ago, Willow Young was a new parent who had just moved to New Hampshire.

The state’s motto, “Live Free or Die,” appealed to her.

“I wanted a space where I knew my children could be raised and know who they were themselves, because that wasn't the life I lived," Young said.

When Gov. Chris Sununu signed House Bill 1319 into law in 2018, amending state anti-discrimination law to include gender identity, the Exeter resident said it allowed her to feel safer in her community and come out as a transgender woman to her family.

Six years later, HB 396 is headed to Sununu’s desk. The measure would allow any person or organization to use “biological sex” as criteria for accessing gender-specific spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms and prisons.

Transgender residents and their allies say HB 396 would allow for discrimination based not just on gender identity, but against anyone who does not appear to look like the sex they were assigned at birth.

“We can never take a break,” Young, 53, said. “We have to continue to stand up and say who we are and demand how we need to be treated in this world.”

Young was among more than 200 people who gathered at the Statehouse Wednesday to protest HB 396 and three other bills on LGBTQ+ rights in New Hampshire that have passed both the House and Senate and are now before Gov. Sununu.

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HB 1205 would require school sports teams in grades six through 12 to be separated based on “biological sex.” Transgender girls would be barred from competing on teams designated for female athletes and forced to compete on teams deemed co-ed or for male athletes.

HB 619 would ban “genital gender reassignment surgery," a rare procedure but one of many types of gender-affirming care, for minors in New Hampshire. The bill would also prohibit providers from issuing referrals for the procedure out of state. The measure includes exceptions for pediatric genital surgeries “to correct malformation, malignancy, injury or physical disease,” for circumcision and for people born intersex.

HB 1312 would amend a law that requires public school educators to give parents at least two weeks’ notice before any instructional material or program about human sexuality. The bill would expand the list of topics to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or gender expression.

Supporters of this measure say it would give parents more opportunities to have conversations at home on these topics; opponents argue it would only promote further discrimination against LGBTQ+ identities in schools.

Demonstrators gathered on the Statehouse lawn shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday to listen to speakers — all New Hampshire residents — share stories about how these bills would impact them, if signed. In between each speaker, chants and community songs were taught to participants.

“Growing up in the Great North Woods, if you weren’t ‘normal’ up there, you had nowhere to go,” said Littleton resident Vern Masters. “ … As a 30-year-old queer person who has never been more comfortable in their own body and in their social life, I wish I had more opportunity, more access to people like me.”

“After I transitioned, basically everything in my life kept on getting better and better,” said Dover resident Alice Wade. "… We’re here today both to talk about how great transition can be for people, how much it can help them, and how much harm can come from withholding that care and from treating trans children like second-class people.”

Following roughly an hour of personal stories, rally participants marched into the Statehouse. They lined the hallway outside the governor’s office, while members of the N.H. Youth Movement, the speakers and two openly transgender state representatives — Rep. Alissandra Murray, D-Manchester, and Rep. James Roesener, D-Concord — provided Sununu’s reception staff a petition with more than 800 signatures asking for his veto of the four bills.

They also requested a meeting with the governor but were told he was unavailable. This led to roughly 20 more minutes of chants and singing in the hallway outside his office, which echoed throughout the Statehouse.

Rally participants returned outside shortly after 1 p.m. Many expressed dismay with the lack of an official statement from Sununu about his position on these bills.

“It’s creating a lot of fear, when it’s so harmless to just exist,” said Dover resident Emily Boucher. A lifelong resident of the Granite State, they graduated from Keene State in 2009.

“We really should be dealing with the real issues in our state, like homelessness.”

After a bill passes both legislative bodies and is signed by the House speaker or Senate president, Sununu has five days from its arrival to his desk to sign it into law or veto it. He can also let a bill pass without a signature if the Legislature has not adjourned.

The governor has not yet signaled whether or not he is likely to sign or veto these bills. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.