Opinion: New Hampshire’s LGBTQ+ Youth need support, not political attack

Protesters stand outside the State House on Wednesday morning, March 16, 2022 in opposition to HB 1180, that would add new gender-related language to New Hampshire’s birth records law.

Protesters stand outside the State House on Wednesday morning, March 16, 2022 in opposition to HB 1180, that would add new gender-related language to New Hampshire’s birth records law. Monitor file


Published: 05-16-2024 7:00 AM

Angel Simone (she/they), is the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Operations at The Trevor Project, the leading suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ+ young people, a member of Seacoast Outright, and a resident of New Hampshire.

I remember in 2018 when Gov. Sununu stated, “Discrimination – in any form – is unacceptable and runs contrary to New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die Spirit,” after signing bipartisan legislation making New Hampshire the 19th state, and the last state in New England, to protect transgender people from discrimination.

As a gay, nonbinary New Hampshire resident who now helps manage operations for the leading suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ+ young people at The Trevor Project, I was so proud of our state that day.

Today, I fear my home state is taking multiple steps backward for LGBTQ+ young people.

A staggering 39 percent of LGBTQ+ youth in New Hampshire seriously considered suicide in the past year, and about one in 10 made an attempt. And yet, instead of working to make life better for these young people, our lawmakers are considering more than a dozen anti-LGBTQ+ policies that would directly harm gay and transgender youth, and take away their freedoms. These bills would encourage teachers to “out” LGBTQ+ students to their parents before they’re ready, stigmatize discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom, and block transgender kids from playing sports with their friends.

It’s important to understand that even if these bills do not pass, they can still harm young people. A staggering 90 percent of LGBTQ+ youth said recent politics negatively impacted their mental health, according to The Trevor Project’s new 2024 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ+ Young People. These policies, and the ugly rhetoric that surrounds them, take a real and damaging toll on young people across the state and nation.

Earlier this year, our community was rocked by the tragic death by suicide of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary young person who lived in Oklahoma. News reports shared that Nex was often bullied because of their identity, and that the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills and political rhetoric about trans and nonbinary people coming from Oklahoma state lawmakers had a direct impact on their life.

It pains me to see that lawmakers in my home state, right now, are considering similar legislation. Nex’s story ought to serve as a cautionary tale, and a reminder of the impact that anti-LGBTQ+ debates can have on our young people.

I am urging our lawmakers to stop putting their energy into hurting LGBTQ+ young people and instead focus on helping make life better for all Granite Staters, like our current housing crisis and ongoing opioid epidemic.

While all the anti-LGBTQ+ bills being considered are harmful, there is one bill in particular that would weaken the bipartisan transgender nondiscrimination law passed in 2018: House Bill 396. This bill would replace our state’s current protections against sex-based discrimination with a rigid, narrow definition of gender, and it doesn’t only impact transgender people. This also has broader implications for all girls and women, by undermining decades of legal precedent protecting people from sex-based discrimination.

LGBTQ+ young people in New Hampshire have enough to deal with. When I was young, I struggled with the shame and stigma that is too often associated with being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, I did not come out until later in my adult life. It was an incredibly difficult process for me, and I can’t imagine what it is like for young people today, who also have to deal with constant political news invalidating their identities. Our state leaders should be working to support LGBTQ+ youth, not add to their isolation further.

While the anti-LGBTQ+ policies being considered in New Hampshire can make matters worse for young people, we know what can make things better, and it’s pretty simple. Research has consistently shown that LGBTQ+ young people who belong to families, schools, and communities that accept them for who they are report lower rates of attempting suicide compared to those who do not.

Further, The Trevor Project’s peer-reviewed study found gender-affirming hormone therapy was significantly related to lower rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts among transgender and nonbinary young people. When adults create safe, affirming environments for young people to live as their authentic selves, their mental health and well-being can drastically improve.

I love living in New Hampshire. From the wide variety of restaurants to the wonderful community I have found here, I am happy to call this place my home. But lawmakers’ current attacks on LGBTQ+ young people do not reflect the New Hampshire I know, or hold true to the 2018 transgender anti-discrimination law that was enacted just six years ago.

Discrimination is not a New Hampshire value. Freedom is. Everyone — including LGBTQ+ young people — deserves the chance to live a happy, healthy and free life.