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Bill to force NH schools to inform inquiring parents about transgender children fails

New Hampshire State House, Concord, NH.
Dan Tuohy
New Hampshire State House, Concord, N.H.

A bill that would have required school officials to disclose to inquiring parents that their child is using a different name or being referred to as being a different gender was defeated Thursday in the New Hampshire House.

The bill, similar to those already enacted by Republican-led legislatures in multiple states, had passed the GOP-dominated Senate in March along party lines. But Republicans hold a razor-thin majority in the 400-member House, and more Democrats were present for Thursday's vote.

Democrats passed several "poison pill" amendments to weaken the bill before it was defeated 195-190 on a vote to "indefinitely postpone" it. That means the topic can't be taken up for the rest of the session.

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Many states with Republican-controlled legislatures have enacted similar measures, fueled by parental frustration with schools that boiled over during the coronavirus pandemic. In the U.S. House, such a bill was the first legislation that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy formally announced — fulfilling a major part of the GOP campaign platform.

The New Hampshire version sought "to establish a consistent mechanism for parents to be notified of information relating to the health, well-being, and educational progress of their minor children while those children are in the custody and control of the public schools."

Opponents argue that while it may appear benign in detailing many rights already covered by existing state and federal law, the bill exposes LGBQT+ students to the risk of abuse at home — a bad idea for young people who are already prone to stress, depression and suicidal thoughts.

"This rush to inform will deny adolescents the time needed for thoughtfulness and care that is sometimes needed for a teen and their family to approach this sensitive issue," Rep. Mel Myler, a Democrat from Hopkinton, wrote in the House calendar ahead of the vote.

Supporters of the bill have argued it would strengthen family relationships.

"Parents who ask such questions likely already suspect that their children are having problematic issues in this area, so this bill is not an effort to 'out' such students," Republican Rep. Arlene Quartatiello wrote in the calendar. "It is, rather, an effort to empower a partnership between parents and teachers to most effectively help vulnerable children navigate complicated situations that may involve life-altering decisions."

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a similar bill last year that would have required schools to automatically notify parents about students' sexual or gender identity. Sununu said Wednesday he generally supported the new bill.