House Education Committee votes against mandatory nonbinary gender marker in schools

By: - October 14, 2021 3:45 pm
A view of the statehouse

In a party-line vote, Republicans on the House Education Committee voted to recommend rejecting House Bill 136. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

New Hampshire lawmakers dealt a setback to a bill requiring schools to offer nonbinary identification options for students, voting, 11-9, on Thursday to recommend the bill be deemed “inexpedient to legislate.”

In a party-line vote, Republicans on the House Education Committee voted to recommend rejecting House Bill 136, which would require all public and charter schools to update their software and documents to allow a category for students “that is neither exclusively male or exclusively female.”

Democratic lawmakers have pushed for the bill as a means to enhance the rights of nonbinary and LGBTQ individuals in elementary and high school. They include Josh Query, a Manchester representative who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. 

“As one of only two nonbinary legislators in the country, I can say that this would be an immensely beneficial thing,” Query said, speaking to fellow committee members. “If I had this access as a child, it would have allowed me to be open and out.”

Others, such as Rep. Barbara Shaw, said it was necessary to bring schools up to date. 

“I feel this is very important to the well-being and mental health of many children,” Shaw said. “In this day and age, things are very different.”

Rep. Glenn Cordelli, a Tuftonboro Republican and the vice chairman of the committee, argued against that sentiment.

“I do not think it is necessary,” he said. “I would respectfully disagree that it’s a matter of keeping up with the times.”

Instead, Cordelli and other opponents argued, the issue should be left to districts to decide, some of which have already found ways to record the nonbinary gender status of their students. 

One Republican committee member, Rep. Alicia Lekas, said she supported the effort by schools to address students by their preferred pronouns but in the “notes” section next to children’s attendance sheets for teachers. “I don’t think the LGBTQ community should be an ‘X’ box,” she said.

Another said schools should continue recording a student’s birth gender despite how they identify, because doing otherwise could create complications for school nurses. Rep. Erica Layon, a Derry Republican, suggested that allowing nonbinary designations might prevent nurses from correctly diagnosing situations like pregnancies when a student comes in with abdominal pain. 

Democrats rejected that line of argument, saying that if it created a problem with medical diagnoses it would have presented itself in the schools that have allowed nonbinary designations in their records. 

To Query, the vote indicated that the Legislature has a ways to go before it reaches full acceptance of nonbinary adults and children. Query decided to exclusively use “they/them” pronouns only last year. But throughout his childhood, he knew he didn’t identify with either traditional gender.

“I had interests from everywhere, from flower arranging to cars,” they said. “Like, I rebuilt a ‘74 Volkswagen Beetle my sophomore year of college while working in a flower shop.” 

For years, Query accepted being referred to as “he/him.” But the slow progress of awareness in the Legislature prompted him to move toward the exclusive use of “they.”

“It was a difficult decision, because of just the space that I occupy here in Concord,” Query said. “… It’s not known for its forward movement and adoption of that kind of language, but that’s actually kind of what helped me to arrive to that decision. I wouldn’t ever see anyone that looked like me.” 

The committee was united Thursday in its rejection of another bill, HB 198, which would have required schools to prohibit transgender female athletes on female sports teams. That bill would have carved out an exception to the state’s school anti-discrimination laws, which currently protect transgender students. 

The committee voted to recommend that the bill be killed, 20-0.

Both bills will come before the full House at the beginning of the next legislative year, in January. The committee’s votes are only recommendations; the House will vote in January on whether to kill them, pass them, or send them back to the committee for interim study.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.

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