By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Transgender youth and their advocates denounced a bill that would define gender reassignment as child abuse in New Hampshire at a hearing on House Bill 68 on Wednesday.
Also heard by the House Committee on Children and Family Law Wednesday was a bill that would raise the age of marriage from 16 to 18 years of age, House Bill 60.
State Rep. David Testerman, R-Franklin, the sponsor of House Bill 68, said he has seen how drugs and surgeries to alter sexual identity have not worked and that with youth, it should constitute child abuse.
“All I am trying to do is protect young kids,” Testerman said.
He acknowledged upon questioning that parents and possibly the doctors themselves could be considered for charges of abuse by the state Division for Children, Youth, and Families under the proposed change in the law.
More than 70 people signed up to speak on the bill but the hearing had to be recessed and rescheduled for another time as the committee did not have time to hear all the testimony.
Committee Chairman Kim Rice, R-Hudson, said she expected to reschedule House Bill 68 for a continued hearing in about two weeks.
Of those allowed to speak, no one supported the bill but Testerman.
Anya Tang, a 17-year-old transgender youth, said the bill could lead to more suicides and the bill is itself abuse. Tang called the bill an effort to oppose a “basic human right.”
Lindsey Collins, a concerned parent, agreed that the bill is harmful to transgender youth.
“It is not the state’s place to make this decision, let alone treat it as child abuse,” Collins said. “These children are vulnerable, and it could be considered discriminatory and lead to more concerns,” such as suicide.
Treatment to suppress puberty is commonly used as a first step and is reversible, although Testerman said it causes bones to become brittle and leads to suicidal tendencies.
He said he is not a doctor, but an engineer and parent of four children and 12 grandchildren.
Alison Breault, a parent of a transgender son, said she has seen the psychological damage that can be done when roadblocks like this bill are put up. She said she wished Testerman had stayed to listen to the testimony by opponents rather than leaving the hearing.
The other bill, which related to children, would raise the age of marriage in the state from 16 to 18.
State Rep. Cassandra Levesque, D-Barrington, said generations of her family have been negatively impacted by child marriage and children do not have the maturity to make that decision.
State Rep. Mary Beth Walz, D-Bow, an attorney, said the bill would fix a discrepancy in the law. She said marriage at 16 and 17 is unconstitutional.
She noted that there are about five child marriages a year in the state and most of them involve young girls.
“Across the board we recognize…them as children and if we cross the line here we are making a major mistake,” Walz said.
She said such marriages lead to an increase in the education drop-out rate, poverty, and divorce.
Rep. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, said many consider child marriage a human rights abuse and she agreed that the legal age of marriage in the state should be raised to 18.
“Choosing a partner is a major decision,” she said. It is a contract, she noted, and raising the floor will be a meaningful step in reducing violence and coercion.
Dawn Tyree, a survivor of child marriage, said such a contract is never in the best interest of the child. She said she was forced into marriage at age 13.
“It was more about abuse, control, and manipulation,” she said. “I was powerless over my body with no rights.”
Tyree said she couldn’t register for school at 16 when she left her husband, and when she told the school she was divorced she was told she had to get her ex-husband to enroll her.
Kaycee Reagan, 17, a Woodsville High School student, spoke in favor of the bill.
She said she is headed off to college and is so excited to be able to take the next step in her life. But most girls who marry at an early age are not so lucky. Abuse rates are high in child marriages, she said.
Reagan said other teens like her are not ready for making such a commitment.
Rep. Chuck Grassie, D-Rochester, said the U.S. State Department calls child marriage a human rights abuse.
He said children who are married at an early age tend to have further generations in that situation and live a life of poverty. Even if the marriage ends in a divorce, it still leads to a life of difficulty.
“Our age of majority is 18,” he said.