By ANI FREEDMAN, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Protesters stood outside of the Legislative Office Building in Concord to oppose the recently amended bill prohibiting gender transition procedures for minors.
They held signs that read, “Live Free means Trans Rights” and “Don’t ban medically necessary care.”
Nancy Brennan, a resident of Weare, hoped that the bill wouldn’t pass, but she knew it would be close with a narrowly divided House. Those divisions became clear as discussions heated up inside Monday morning’s committee meeting.
The Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee convened to discuss several amended bills that were retained in the previous House of Representatives session, including HB 619, which details restrictions on gender affirmation procedures for minors, and sparked debate along party lines about the validity of the bill.
While the executive session not only saw intense debate about the proposed legislation involving gender-affirming surgeries, but also discussions about two other bills that would streamline changes to birth certificates to reflect current gender identity and offer protections for recipients of gender-affirming health and mental health care.
The committee’s votes for all three bills ended in ties, leaving the representatives to provide no recommendation for the passage of the bills when they are heard again when the House of Representatives convenes on Jan. 4, 2024.
The amended bill replaces the previous version introduced in January, which included broader language on the “system of gender dysphoria care for minors.” It would have entirely prohibited any gender affirming care for minors, denied the teaching of nonbinary pronouns in public schools, and required that, “All public schools in kindergarten through grade 12 in New Hampshire shall refer to children by the name and gender that they are enrolled as,” according to the original document.
The current amended bill narrows the language to only prohibit “genital gender reassignment surgery” to anyone under 18.
After the amended bill was introduced in an October 25 hearing, the LGBTQ+ community throughout New Hampshire reacted with frustration and fear for young people exploring their gender identities and expression.
Linds Jakows, co-founder of the LGBTQ+ organization 603 Equality, testified at the initial hearing against the bill. They believed the legislation was a political maneuver.
“New Hampshire doesn’t want politicians telling people what to do with their own bodies and medical care,” Jakows said. “I think they’re trying to narrow it to get a narrower win to get this bill through.”
Rep. Gerri Cannon, D-Somersworth, who publicly identifies as a transgender woman, spoke up against the bill at the session.
“I don’t believe this document is needed,” she said. “I believe this document is in search of a problem in New Hampshire.”
The argument of the co-sponsors of the bill, which included committee members Rep. Leah Cushman, R-Weare, Vice Chair of the committee Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry, and Rep. Lisa Mazur, R-Hillsborough 44, was that this amended bill would prohibit uninformed parents from going through with treatment for their children who may regret it.
Layon argued that there was not enough data about the impacts of gender-affirming care on minors, nor to what extent it was happening in New Hampshire, to properly inform parents. She and other representatives claimed that these parents were being emotionally coerced into consenting to gender-affirming care because of the mental health problem among transgender youth.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard the parents being told, ‘Would you rather have a dead son or a live daughter?’” Layon said. She added that she didn’t want to outright ban gender-affirming care, but rather have young transgender individuals wait until they are 18.
Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, quickly countered Layon’s point. “If we enact prohibition there will be no more data, there will be nothing to evaluate,” Weber said. “That seems like a self-fulfilled prophecy.”
“The way I come down on this is that the folks with lived experience in this area have asked for this amendment not to be passed,” Weber added.
Many of the Democrats on the committee commended the rewriting of the bill to narrow the scope from the first version, including Rep. Joe Schapiro, D-Keene, who called the original bill “overtly discriminatory towards a group of people.”
But Schapiro was not convinced on the amendment.
“It’s just conjecture to say that parents are basically being blackmailed into their children receiving care because they’re being told by medical professionals that their children will commit suicide otherwise,” Schapiro said.
Schapiro and other state representatives against the bill claimed that the surgeries this legislation would ban are not happening in New Hampshire to begin with.
“Not only is it interfering with the patient-physician relationship and legislating medical care, but it also feels discriminatory to me because we’re picking this one group to put limitations on,” Schapiro added
Rep. Seth King, R-Whitefield, made it clear that he supported the original bill before the amended changes, while still supporting the current version.
“There is a moral stance being taken here,” King said. “What is being done to children around the country is wrong.”
“Imagine when there is teacher pressure, Hollywood pressure, parental pressure, to do something that these children are going to later grow up to absolutely regret,” King continued. “They’re going to have a lot of resentment for everyone pushing them into this.”
Contrary to what others were saying, Rep. Mazur did believe these gender-affirming surgeries were happening in the state. Mazur cited Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Elliott Hospital’s websites as confirming that they provide surgeries for transgender individuals.
“This is evidence that this is being done in NH,” Mazur said. “We need to take a step back and do more research and find out what’s really happening.”
“This is not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” Mazur added. “This is taking one step and trying to protect the children until they are adults and able to make the decision.”
Rep. Cannon said that even if the care is provided, she knows that transgender youth are still denied access to that care. “It’s been painful for lots of transgender youth,” she said.
“I have an issue especially with the focus on transgender children,” Cannon said. “We have focused on a protected class of individuals, and we feel this is a discriminatory bill.”
“We’ve really separated and identified the transgender kids as being different as every other child in the school system,” Cannon said.
Melanie Renfrew-Hebert was in the room to hear the committee discuss and vote on the bills regarding transgender youths. As a resident from Goffstown, which has experienced its own controversies regarding this subject in school board meetings, and an active member of the LGBTQ+ community, she felt strongly against HB 619.
“I call this bill, New Hampshire’s own ‘Don’t Say Trans Bill,’” she said.
The division among the committee was further apparent during discussions of two other bills: HB 264, which simplifies the process to change one’s birth certificate to reflect their current gender identity, and HB 368, which offers protections for recipients of gender-affirming health care and gender-affirming mental health care.
Rep. Cannon co-sponsored HB 264 and argued that while people currently can change their birth certificates, the process is complicated and often presents barriers, such as different judges interpreting the law differently to permit or deny such a change.
“I proposed this bill to provide a change for those individuals who want to be documented correctly on their birth certificates,” Cannon said.
Rep. Weber chimed in to say that it is not a significant departure from the practice of altering birth certificates for adopted children.
Rep. Layon believed that altering the birth certificate in this way would be “using a document for more than it was intended.”
“I want to move away from using birth certificates as a current form of identity for anything other than citizenship,” Layon said.
The vote to not recommend the passage of the bill ended in a tie, with no recommendation being passed on. The bill will be voted on when the full House convenes on Jan. 4, 2024.
The clashes continued as the committee went on to discuss HB 368, which provides protections to those receiving gender-affirming care and prohibits healthcare providers from releasing details of that care, or the “medical information related to a person or entity allowing a child to receive gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care in response to any civil action,” according to the bill as written.
Rep. Mazur motioned to move the bill to interim study, which ended in a tie vote. She then motioned to not recommend its passage.
“Our citizens are concerned with making New Hampshire a sanctuary state,” Mazur said, citing the “flood of messages” she received to stop the passage of this bill.
Rep. Weber disagreed. “We have heard a great deal from both sides of this particular question, and I think it is incredibly important that we support those who are in the midst of a very difficult journey,” Weber continued, “and we affirm the rights of individuals and their parents to make these decisions and get the treatments that they believe they need, in a caring and medially sensitive way.”
Rep. Karen Reid (R-Hillsborough 27), who was substituting for a committee member who could not attend, was against the bill. “I don’t think New Hampshire is a mecca for gender-affirming care,” Reid said. She added she doesn’t understand requesting such care in New Hampshire to begin with, concerned about the state’s liability for minors who come to New Hampshire for surgery and down the road feel they’ve made an error and seek a lawsuit of medical professionals here.
Rep. Cannon quickly responded.
“This bill does not change the services we offer to all New Hampshire residents,” Cannon said, adding that it protects medical professionals, and that she has received many messages to pass this bill. “People outside of New Hampshire are already coming to New Hampshire for care, we’re not offering anything else that we don’t already provide to our residents.”
Other representatives in support of the bill stated that it would preserve New Hampshire citizens’ rights to privacy of their medical records.
“This bill would also protect privacy and confidentiality, which this state values immensely,” Rep. Schapiro said. He also argued that the privacy involved in transgender care needed to be protected and distinguished from general medical care.
“The reason for singling this out is because there is talk from other states for prosecuting both abortion care and this kind of care,” Schapiro said.
Rep. Cushman expressed “concerns with constitutionality and the complexities that would come.”
“It flies in the face of the rights of states to do things a bit differently. One state might do things a bit differently than another,” Cushman said, referring to the possibility of a state banning gender-affirming care and prosecuting those who may cross state lines to receive it in New Hampshire. “I don’t agree on principle on making laws that would stop a state from enforcing their own laws.”
Rep. Gary Merchant , D-Claremont, offered his support for the bill, citing American values as his reasoning. “It protects the sanctimony of patient-physician relationship,” Merchant said.
“All this bill is doing is protecting those two fundamental beliefs we have in our country: the right to have medical care, based on what you think is right between you and the physician,” Merchant continued, “and the right of a parent to value the journey of their child, without the state getting involved in that.”
The discussion ended in another tie vote, with no recommendation about its passage offered.
The three bills related to transgender care will emerge again on Jan. 4, 2024, when they are presented to the entirety of the House of Representatives for a vote.