Opinion: NH transgender state reps speak out against SB 272

By GERRI CANNON, ALISSANDRA MURRAY and JAMES ROESENER

Published: 05-10-2023 6:00 AM

Gerri Cannon, Alissandra Murray and James Roesener are NH state representatives.

As openly transgender state representatives, we work hard to engage with our fellow representatives about what it means to be transgender. We write as a transgender woman, a nonbinary transgender person, and a transgender man.

Our work has grown through the years, going back to when Rep. Cannon sat in the state house cafeteria in 2009 before she was elected, having initial conversations about the transgender nondiscrimination bill that passed in 2018.

On Transgender Day of Visibility this year, we were proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder as Rep. Cannon gave a speech to all House Representatives about what visibility means in 2023. Our ability to be visible trans adults allows us to have conversations with our colleagues that increase understanding of our lives and the policies that will impact them. Most of all, we work to create a world in which young trans people can be safe to be themselves.

Yet, this session we’ve heard bills introduced by state reps who want to define gender-affirming care as child abuse and roll back state nondiscrimination laws. We still have a long way to go — only half of nationally polled adults reported they would be comfortable if their child came out to them as transgender or nonbinary.

Creating a world where all public school students, including transgender students, can freely be themselves includes opposing SB 272. The so-called “parental bill of rights” would require teachers to answer “completely and truthfully” if asked by parents about their student’s gender identity or expression. It also creates a new mandate that club attendance is tracked, targeting Gay-Straight Alliance or Gender-Sexuality Alliance clubs (GSAs). And it would sue teachers for violations, in the midst of a statewide teacher shortage.

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We want to see a world in which teachers can advise parents to talk to their children directly. As a parent and someone who hopes to be a parent one day, if our children or future children are questioning their sexuality or gender and we’re not the first person they come out to, that’s okay. They might want to be more certain when they tell us, and we’re glad if they have other support systems like school to try out a new name or pronoun.

Certainly there are parents who may have some initial discomfort but come around, but it’s still critical that teachers don’t second guess what can be complex family dynamics, as they would be required to do with this one-size-fits-all bill. As one testifier at the bill’s hearing illustrated, a student with a terminally ill parent might justifiably worry that the initial stress of hearing about their child’s trans status might worsen their condition.

A few years ago, another school staff member outed a student when their sibling was experiencing a mental health crisis. A student might know that their name change will upset a parent who is emotionally attached to having named them after a grandparent, and so they want to make sure they’ve chosen a new name that really fits them and feels right before coming out in their own time.

If a student says their parents are anti-trans, the type who would urge representatives to bring back conversion therapy and criminalize parents who are supportive of their children’s transition, that should be taken seriously. There is a difference between respecting confidentiality and “keeping secrets.” And social workers tell us that it’s important that young people have trusted adults outside the home to turn to in situations of abuse. As people who have come out gradually ourselves in different spaces, we know that feeling safe expressing ourselves in one place does not justify others outing us in another.

Proponents of this bill are downplaying or flat-out ignoring the unfortunate reality that queer youth are still mistreated, abused, kicked out of their homes, or sent to conversion therapy out of state just for being who they are. Waypoint reported in testimony that 25% of the young people in their shelter are LGBTQ.

An amendment to this bill says it provides an exception to the forced outing requirements for “clear and convincing evidence of abuse or neglect” but we know many queer and trans people are abused in ways that don’t show clear evidence to people very close to the family, let alone teachers. And we are troubled by the “clear and convincing” bar being raised higher than the legal bar for abuse and neglect (“a preponderance of evidence”), which was pointed out by the Office of the Child Advocate when their staff testified strongly against this bill and a similar bill rejected by the House, HB 10.

Let’s be clear. Legislators could have chosen to write a bill saying, “teachers must not lie to parents.” That’s not what they did. They chose to write a bill that singled out trans students for a special level of surveillance.

Ultimately, this bill undermines trust. We can’t imagine students trusting their teachers if they are forced to report they heard them tell a friend in the hall that they want to try out different pronouns. We can’t imagine students trusting their parents more after being outed.

To our colleagues in the State House who want less government involvement in personal lives: oppose this bill that unnecessarily mandates teachers’ involvement in complex family dynamics. To Granite Staters who are already with us, contact your representatives and make sure they plan to show up and vote against SB 272. It’s going to be a close one. The trans adults of tomorrow will breathe a sigh of relief when it’s voted down.

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