Bill requiring single-sex school bathrooms divides parents, students
The National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire (NAMI) and New Futures, a statewide health advocacy group, oppose the bill. (Anne-Marie Miller | Getty Images)
New Hampshire House lawmakers are considering a bill that requires all multiple-stall bathrooms in public schools to be restricted to one sex, continuing a years-long debate around rights for transgender students.
Sponsored by Rep. Michael Moffett, a Loudon Republican, House Bill 104 states that “all multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms in all New Hampshire public schools and chartered public schools for elementary, middle, and high school pupils shall be same sex.” The bill would bar multi-stall facilities that are gender neutral.
“The need for such a bill as this would have perplexed the good folks back in Groveton in the ‘70s,” Moffett said. “But back then, boys were boys and girls were girls. Today in 2023, things are more complicated.”
At a hearing on the bill Tuesday, supporters included Republican lawmakers, parents, and conservative advocates. But other groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire (NAMI) and New Futures, a statewide health advocacy group, opposed the bill, and some parents and high school students spoke against it.
Supporters of the bill said it was necessary to eliminate potential sexual assaults, which they said were possible with gender-neutral bathrooms.
“The bill is not necessarily suggesting that a person who identifies as another gender is likely to commit a crime, but rather somebody who is likely to commit a crime would take advantage of such a policy,” argued Rep. Mike Belcher, a Wakefield Republican.
One person who testified, Betsy Harrington of Deering, said she supported separating bathrooms by sex, bringing up harrowing experiences she has had in locker rooms accessed by men. Harrington was once photographed by a man in a locker room when she was unclothed, an experience that traumatized her, she said.
“I see places where I’m fully unclothed as sacred. My situation would be more likely if we allowed biological men in women’s spaces. It makes sense to separate bathrooms by one’s genitals, which is how the separation of these spaces began.”
Evidence suggests that safety and privacy violations in public restrooms are rare. A 2018 UCLA study focused on Massachusetts found no difference in criminal incident reports between localities with gender-identity-inclusive facilities and those without them. Meanwhile, a 2019 study of student survey data in the journal Pediatrics found that students who did not have access to the bathroom of their gender identity “were more likely to experience sexual assault.”
The bill was heard a day after the Milford School Board voted down an effort to change school district policy to require bathrooms be single sex.
Some in favor of the bill argued that schools should set up single-person gender-neutral bathrooms as an option for transgender or nonbinary students. “I think most people are comfortable with something like this, where you have a female restroom for biological females and biological males and then offer transgender students something where they feel safe,” said Ann Marie Banfield, a conservative advocate.
But opponents argued those accommodations are often expensive for school districts and inadequate and isolating for students. And they argued the legislation would harm transgender students’ well-being.
Sam Hawkins, the public policy assistant for NAMI, cited the risks of assault and suicide among transgender teens as the primary reason for the organization’s opposition.
“This bill would only serve to further restrict access to affirming spaces for trans youth,” he said. “School, a crucial and developmental everyday environment, would become a place where a child can no longer fully live in accordance with their identity. Where these numbers of affirming environments decreases, we expect anxiety, depression, and suicide will likely increase.”
In a letter sent to the committee, Abby Maxwell, a Hopkinton parent, said the bill would impede her ability to protect her own daughter, who is transgender. Passage of the law could force her family to decide to leave the state, Maxwell wrote.
“This is my third year in a row fighting these bills,” Maxwell wrote, in a letter read aloud to the committee by Concord activist Louise Spencer. “My husband and I are so tired. We are working so hard to protect our sleep and our mental health from these assaults so that we can still give our daughter a good, happy childhood. “
Several high school students testified against the legislation, arguing that the concerns for student safety raised by supporters of the bill were not shared by the students themselves.
Abigail Kincaid, a Bedford High School student, said that single-stall bathrooms “are usually not very accessible” and would not be a solution for transgender students.
And Lily O’Brien, a student at Plymouth Regional High School and a member of the Governor’s Youth Advisory Council, argued the bill was motivated by narrow-mindedness.
“I have never felt uncomfortable or unsafe sharing a locker room with my transgender peers,” she said. “I have, however, felt incredibly unsafe sharing a space with people who push a hateful narrative against their transgender peers hidden behind claims of safety, when it stemmed from a place of hatred and refusal of acceptance.”
The committee will vote on whether to recommend the bill in the coming weeks. It will then receive a full vote on the House floor.
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