Trans students rally at NH statehouse as lawmakers debate


New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 03-13-2023 12:22 PM

Three years ago, when Flynn Ortiz came out as transgender, they followed a deliberate strategy. First, they told a friend.

“I was like, ‘Do you mind calling me these pronouns? This name?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, sure,’ ” Ortiz, now a high school senior, recalled Tuesday.

After waiting to get used to the change, Ortiz moved on to their teachers — the ones they trusted.

Only much later did they sit down to tell their father. That experience was much more nerve-wracking. Ortiz had had a strategy: They asked their father to respect them, even if he didn’t agree with the decision. And they asked him to ask questions.

“Being afraid to ask questions leads to ignorance, and that leads to harm to many people,” they said.

The approach was carefully planned, guided by conversations Ortiz had with other trans teenagers online. But if the New Hampshire Legislature and governor approve a parental rights bill this year, Ortiz argues that gradual approach will be all but impossible.

Senate Republicans are pressing for a bill that would give parents the right to inquire if their child is being referred to by any name at school that could indicate a desire to change their gender.

Senate Bill 272 would give parents the right to ask schools about such name changes, and to ask if staff were referring to their child by different pronouns, and if the school had made any interventions or accommodations for the child’s gender identity. Under the bill, any teacher or school official who withholds that information or gives a false answer could be sued by the parent for monetary damages.

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The bill allows for school officials to choose not to inform parents of their child’s desired gender identity only if they have “clear and convincing evidence” that doing so could lead to neglect or abuse by the child’s parents or guardians. If a teacher chose to do so, they would need to write a report to their supervisor outlining the justification for it, the bill states.

The bill was one of several that prompted a rally of more than 100 advocates at the State House last week to support LGBTQ rights. Critics of SB 272 said it would force teachers to out students who don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about their gender identity.

Among the crowd was Ortiz, who showed up to the rally with two fellow classmates who are also trans.

In addition to the parental bill of rights, advocates at the rally took aim at House Bill 417, which would designate gender-affirming health care for minors — such as drug treatments and surgery to alter sex — as child abuse, and House Bill 619, which would prohibit gender-affirming care for minors and ban educators from teaching about gender identity in public schools.

To Sen. Sharon Carson, the Senate majority leader and prime sponsor of SB 272, the “parental bill of rights” is intended only to let parents know what their child is up to at school.

Carson, a Londonderry Republican, disagreed that the proposed law would lead to children being disciplined or rejected by their parents for their gender identity.

“It is a parent’s responsibility to ensure the health of their children and to make decisions about their well-being,” Carson said in a statement. “As much as I appreciate the important role that schools and teachers play in our children’s lives, these decisions belong to parents. This bill prevents schools from hiding information from New Hampshire parents, plain and simple.”

Senate President Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, agreed.

“As a father of four children, it is inconceivable that I would not be involved in my children’s education and know what is going on with them while they are at school,” Bradley said in his own statement.

All 14 Senate Republicans are co-sponsors of SB 272, indicating that it will likely pass when it arrives at the Senate floor.

The bill received a 3-2 recommendation from the Senate Education Committee this week along party lines.

Grey Dunlap, a trans Concord High senior who also attended the Tuesday morning rally, argued the bills in question are rooted in a misunderstanding.

“Their whole pitch is that they care about children, but the irony of that is a lot of them haven’t talked to trans children,” Dunlap said, speaking of Republican lawmakers supporting the bill. “I think they don’t fully grasp the harm that this is going to cause to so many trans kids out there.”

Another high school student attending the rally said they had not come out to their parents but had come out to all of their teachers. If a law were passed to compel educators to divulge gender identity to parents and guardians, that student would have been more selective around which teachers they came out to, they said.

“I know that it’s frightening for kids to come out to their parents,” the student said. “... I’ve had many friends talk about how they’re still not out to their parents but they do have a couple teachers at the school that they confide in, and if this was passed, that would destroy their mental health.”

The Bulletin is not naming the student because they have not come out to their parents.

In the House, some Republican lawmakers argued that gender-affirming surgery and other care amounted to irresponsible medical practice when applied to minors.

“I bring this bill not with the intention that it will necessarily end up as banning these procedures,” said Rep. Terry Roy, a Deerfield Republican. “I bring this bill with the intention that we have something that heretofore we have not been able to have, and that’s a public discussion about these treatments.”

He added: “No one is sure of the long-term effects. But what we are sure of is when someone goes with it and takes it to its fullest extent, they cannot go back.”

Trans students see a different reality.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, Dunlap said they plan to get top surgery, referring to the procedure to remove breast and chest tissue, when they turn 18. But gender affirming care is something many of Dunlap’s trans friends are hoping to receive before they turn 18, they said. For many of those peers, that means receiving testosterone and other therapies.

“I think it’s really important that we deserve to be respected,” Dunlap said.

Having that option barred by law could have devastating consequences for those teenagers, argued Dunlap.

“For a lot of people I know personally, this is seen as a death sentence for them,” Dunlap said. “They’ve considered self-harm or suicide.”

The legislative discussions are far from over; each bill will receive a floor debate in either the House or Senate in the coming weeks. But standing outside the State House amid biting late-winter wind Tuesday morning, Ortiz said they saw a future in LGBTQ+ activism.

“It’s kind of opened up my eyes a lot as to, like, this is something I can do and this is sustainable to me,” Ortiz said.