By ANI FREEDMAN, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – On Monday, the House Education Committee heard polarized testimony regarding a bill that would put strict gender guidelines in place for school athletics, prohibiting what the legislators classified as “biological males” from participating in female athletics.
The bill HB 1205, whose first line states to refer to it as the “fairness in women’s sports act,” comes amidst a wave of recent anti-trans legislation that impacts the rights and education of LGBTQ+ youth.
One of the most emotional testimonies came from Temple resident, Michelle Foisy, who spoke as a former competitive runner and mother of a transgender child.
“My hope for all of my children is that they will have the same opportunities I was given in sports to allow them to thrive and succeed in their adult lives,” Foisy said.
Foisy recounted her child’s difficulty with suicidal thoughts and an attempted suicide before her child felt safe to open up about their gender identity.
“HB 1205 escalates and exacerbates the isolation trans youth like my child have to endure,” Foisy said. “The relationships a person experiences through a sport are life-changing. To not allow a person to be a part of a sport they love is cruel and inhumane.”
Within the bill, HB 1205, are definitions of “male” and female,” labeling both as biological sexes determined at birth, determined by the student’s birth certificate. Pertaining specifically to teams “based upon competitive skill or the activity involved is a contact sport,” the bill would disallow students who were assigned male at birth from participating.
It clarifies that any students who fit this definition of biological male would still be allowed to participate in any “interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural, or club athletic teams or sports designated as “males,” “men,” or “boys” or designated as “coed” or “mixed.”
Testimony in support of the bill largely focused on the perceived physiological advantage that transgender girls and women would have in sports, and the possible safety risks that transgender athletes would pose to other female players.
Jennifer Smith, a retired physician and transgender woman, countered that argument with her testimony.
“Putting up a roadblock to their inclusion in school sports makes no sense whatsoever,” Smith said. “If you want to find a way to advantage girls that’s great, but please don’t do that at the expense of transgender girls that do not have either skeletal or hormonal advantages because they started out with an X and a Y chromosome. It’s just not true.”
Smith argued that cisgender women, those who were born biologically female and continue to identify as such, can also have advantages in sports with naturally high levels of testosterone they were born with. She clarified that trans girls who transitioned before puberty would have lower testosterone levels due to hormone replacement therapy, thus nullifying the advantage that higher levels of this hormone would provide.
“The discouragement that people feel at being othered is often enough to keep someone who has gone through most of male puberty from even thinking about whether to play seriously with other women,” Smith said.
Several testimonies of New Hampshire residents in favor of the bill spoke on behalf of their daughters as well, speaking in fear of how transgender athletes could disadvantage, or even harm, their children in athletic competition.
Crissy Kantor, an Alderman in Manchester, was one of those supporters of HB 1205.
“I believe that trans girls believe they’re girls, but in fact science says they’re not,” Kantor said. “It’s our obligation to protect girls’ rights and their privacy. I’m just a concerned citizen and I have two daughters and two granddaughters as well.”
Linds Jakows, co-founder of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group 603 Equality, testified against the bill and claims like Kantor’s.
“Trans girls are girls, trans women are women,” Jakows said. They called testimony “harmful” that insinuated transgender girls and women would be dangerous to other female athletes.
Sam Hawkins of the National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire testified that this bill would negatively impact the mental health of trans youth by limiting access of trans and nonbinary youth to team sports, their peers, and their communities.
“Freedom from stigma and discrimination is crucial to mental wellness,” Hawkins said. “Acceptance and support within one’s community plays a key role in the mental health of all people including trans and nonbinary youth.”
Rep. Tim Cahill, R-Raymond, argued in support of HB 1205, from the perspective of a surfing coach, that this bill would protect women’s sports.
“If we don’t take action to protect women’s sports, we could be taking a position away from a woman that’s earned a spot or a scholarship,” Cahill said. “If we’re giving spots to men in women’s sports, we’re taking away from their chance to succeed.”
Private schools and higher education institutions are also required to abide by these guidelines.
The bill as written took measures to protect schools that follow this law, prohibiting any “adverse action” against an educational institution that maintains separation of sex in sports per the bill as written.
Deb Howes, President of the American Federation of Teachers in New Hampshire, represented the organization’s opposition to the bill. She made clear that the AFT supports all students, including transgender youth.
“For some students, participating in sports is where they feel they most belong,” Howes said. She also questioned how this bill would be enforced.
“We also have a constitutional protection for privacy,” Howes said. “Do you really want the school making intrusive inquiries into someone’s past or medical situation?”
Amy Manzelli, another mother of a transgender child, said that it’s her fifth year in a row begging the committee to “preserve her basic human rights so we can remain in this state.”
Manzelli said her daughter, Iris, “has always been a girl” and has always competed on girls’ sports teams without any issue.
“Our daughter being a girl is like the color of her skin or her height when she is an adult,” Manzelli said. “An inescapable, inherent characteristic.”
Manzelli said she wished it was as simple as that, but unfortunately her family had to relocate when Iris experienced extreme bullying that became a threat to her safety.
The proposed legislation is partisan, with nine Republican Representatives and three Republican Senators signed on in support of the bill. The bill has yet to be voted on by the Education Committee, whose recommendation to pass or not pass will be sent along to the House for a full vote at a later date.
At the end of the hearing, several members of the public who testified against the bill approached Manzelli’s 14-year-old transgender daughter Iris, who also testified at hearing, rubbing her back and praising her for speaking before the committee.
Ani Freedman is a contract reporter with InDepthNH.org. She is a recent graduate from Columbia Journalism School with a passion for environmental, health, and accountability reporting. In her free time, she’s an avid runner and run coach. She can be reached at email@example.com.