New Hampshire’s child advocate urges lawmakers to vote down LGBTQ+ bills

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New Hampshire Child Advocate Cassandra Sanchez speaks against a number of Republican bills she says would reduce rights for LGBTQ+ children, on April 2, 2024, in Concord. Photo/Ethan DeWitt New Hampshire Bulletin

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New Hampshire’s child advocate, Cassandra Sanchez, spoke out Tuesday against a number of bills she says will create a “chilling effect” for LGBTQ+ children, urging lawmakers to vote against them.

At a press conference Tuesday morning in Concord, Sanchez joined other opponents to speak against legislation that would ban transgender girls from playing in girls’ sports, require public school teachers and staff to reveal a child’s gender identity or sexual orientation if asked, and allow businesses to designate bathrooms and locker rooms based on biological sex.

“These bills not only dehumanize our LGBTQ+ residents, but they also single out an already vulnerable population,” Sanchez said.

Formed in 2017, the Office of the Child Advocate is a watchdog agency that evaluates state agencies, such as the Division for Children, Youth and Families, and determines whether they are upholding child welfare. Sanchez is the second person to serve in the role; she was appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu and approved by the Executive Council in 2022.

Republican lawmakers have sponsored a slew of bills this year that affect LGBTQ+ people in schools and elsewhere.

Several of them have passed the House, including House Bill 396, which allows businesses and public entities to separate bathrooms, locker rooms, and athletic teams based on biological sex, and House Bill 1205, which bans transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams. Others are due for a vote in the full Senate on Thursday, including Senate Bill 562, the Senate’s version of HB 396; Senate Bill 375, the Senate’s version of HB 1205; and Senate Bill 341, the bill requiring teacher disclosure to parents’ questions.

To supporters, the teacher disclosure bill is meant to strengthen parental rights and allow families complete information about their children at school. Opponents say that it instead could force school staff to out kids’ personal pronouns to their parents, even if the child did not want their parents to know.

“The trust is between the parent and the teacher and the parent and the school system,” said Sen. Tim Lang, a Sanbornton Republican and the sponsor of SB 341, during a press conference in January. “… This bill seeks to make sure that that trust is not eroded. That when a parent asks, it gets an honest and complete answer from the school system. And has faith in that.”

Proponents of the sports bills argue they are meant to provide fairness for cisgender girls, who they say may face greater competition from transgender girls who are born biologically male. Opponents say the instances of that are few and that passing the bill would deny trans girls the right to play on the team of their gender identity.

Sanchez spoke against the bills alongside Erin George-Kelly, director of homeless youth and young adult services at Waypoint; Julie Kim, president of the New Hampshire Pediatric Society; and Michelle Veasey, executive director of New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility, a nonprofit organization.

Sanchez argued the bills would erode key protections for transgender youth and others. And she reiterated a concern that the bill requiring disclosure to parents of gender identity could potentially lead to abuse or neglect.

“We do worry that outing children to their parents when they are not ready and they are still exploring their identity can create a very tense and harmful situation in their home environments,” Sanchez said.

The bills allow school staff to not answer parents if the staff person feels that doing so could lead to abuse and neglect. But Sanchez said making that determination would be difficult.

Sanchez has not spoken to Gov. Chris Sununu about the bills, she told reporters Tuesday. But she said she would use her position to urge him to veto the bills should they arrive at his desk.


This story is reproduced with permission under New Hampshire Bulletin‘s Creative Commons License.