By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
MILFORD – The Milford School Board heard sometimes tearful testimony about a proposed change that would no longer allow students to use the bathroom and locker room that correspond with their gender identity.
The School Board debated a proposal Monday night to require students to use the restroom and locker room of their assigned sex at birth, which upset transgender, gender nonconforming students and their many supporters.
Students, parents, legislators, teachers and local residents lined up in the Milford High School cafeteria to voice their opinions.
But when it came to a vote, the proposal was replaced by a compromise that would eliminate urinals in the men’s rooms and enclose all bathroom and locker room stalls.
As of tomorrow, the middle and high school urinals will not be in use, according to School Board Chairman Judi Zaino.
“We’re trying to make it work for everyone,” Zaino said. “We’re experimenting. We don’t know if this will work.” Or how much it will cost, she said.
No more people will be allowed in a bathroom than the number of stalls. There are about 1,280 students total in the Milford middle and high schools.
One student Nicco Romeri spoke out about discrimination in other parts of the world.
“I don’t want my hometown, a place where I grew up to be a place” like that, they said.
“I didn’t attend high school to have my rights taken away or be undermined or to be treated less than.
“I want my high school experience to be just like everyone else’s.”
They said if the policy is changed, depression in children and suicide rates will skyrocket.
“I know no adult wants that. The best way to help your children is to not discriminate,” they said.
Suzanne Myers supported the original policy proposal.
“I am here to defend females in our school district. Females have a right to privacy while using a bathroom. They have a right to feel secure when they are changing their clothes. They have a right to speak up when they don’t feel safe or comfortable in any situation but what is the message from the left – that females do not have a right to privacy. They do not have a right to feel secure or comfortable when changing their clothes. They do not have a right to speak up and use their voice” when they don’t feel comfortable, Myers said.
When females do speak up, they experience hostility, she said.
“I personally have no ill will toward anybody in the LGBTQ community,” Myers said. But from the other side, she said you’ll hear the words bigot, discrimination, trans and homophobia along with the word lawsuit.
One mother of a transgender child said: “My child doesn’t want to go in there to ogle or stare at your child. My child does not want to go there to touch or grope your child or peek under a stall door. They want to go in there to use the bathroom and hopefully wash their hands and leave.”
School board member Nathaniel Wheeler brought the original proposal forward. He took heat because he homeschools his children and used his title as school board member, which he said is totally legal, while testifying on House Bill 396 at the House of Representatives.
Reached Tuesday morning, Wheeler said he does home school his children. He was on his way to work as a general contractor with his father David Wheeler, an Executive Councilor who home-schooled him.
Wheeler said he serves on the school board to keep track of what is going on and how the dollars are being spent.
While some of the speakers criticized his plan as discriminating against transgender and LGTBQ students, others saw it as a way to protect girls from having to use the restroom and changing clothes in the locker room with boys.
“The urinals in the men’s room will be closed for use until we can appraise and install full blinders in the men’s room,” Wheeler said.
He said he voted against the compromise because of the cost, which could be higher than $30,000.
The compromise was approved 4 to 1.
“I think it puts an unnecessary burden on taxpayers,” said Wheeler, adding his original proposal complied with all state and federal laws. He wanted to make sure it would limit exposure for girls having to change clothes for gym with boys watching.
He noted that while he was criticized for testifying as a school board member at the House, two state Representatives testified Monday night.
State Rep. Peter Petrigno, D-Milford, was the first in a long line of speakers at the meeting.
He suggested the board take no vote on the proposal until House Bill 396 is decided in the legislature.
This bill provides that nothing in state law regarding birth records or motor vehicles is intended to prohibit a public entity from differentiating between male and female sexes or undermine the state’s rational interest in recognizing the male and female sexes. It was sponsored by state Rep. Jim Kofalt, R- Hillsborough District 32.
The bill is intended to prohibit any public entity from differentiating between the male and female sexes referring to biological male and female, very similar to the Milford proposal, Petrigno said.
“I will be voting against that bill because the way I see it and the policy you are considering is highly presumptive. It’s insensitive and it’s cruel,” he said.
Petrigno said African Americans were once told they were 3/5 of a person and women were told they belonged to their husbands.
“And that was in the law…Now we’re telling transgender and nonbinary individuals who they are and what they must accept. It is no different. If the board does adopt this policy you will be on the wrong side of history,” Petrigno said.
Rep. Maria Perez, D-Milford, also said she will be voting against HB 396.
“Because I recognize we’re all humans. We all should be treated with respect and dignity…. Let them be. They are not doing anything wrong to you,” Perez said.
Wheeler said the school budget is over $46 million before contract obligations.
He estimated about 40 people spoke at the meeting but believes it was a 50-50 split for and against among the people who didn’t speak.