House panel rejects bill to designate non-binary students

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Oct. 14—CONCORD — A House panel voted along partisan lines to recommend killing legislation that would designate students who identify as non-binary — those don't consider themselves exclusively a boy or girl.

State Rep. Joshua Query, D-Manchester, said this bill (HB 136) would have made it possible for young people to transition earlier in life.

"This would have been immensely beneficial. If I had this access ... it would have allowed me to be open and out early on in my life and allowed for a lot less confusion," Query said.

Query identified as a gay man when he first won election to the New Hampshire House in 2018, but questioned that identity and came out in late 2019 as non-binary.

Rep. Alicia Lekas, D-Hudson, said local school officials already may and do write notes in student files that indicate their personal preferences.

"I don't think this should be an 'X' box. I love the notes section that allows children, anybody to call themselves as they wish," Lekas said.

All 11 Republicans on the House Education Committee voted to kill the measure. All nine Democrats voted in favor.

Rep. Mary Beth Walz, D-Bow, said she was disappointed the issue became partisan.

"People are grasping for straws, trying to come up with some excuse for why they are against the bill," Walz said.

Rep. Ralph Boehm, R-Litchfield, said plenty of partisan bloc voting took place when Democrats were the majority party in the House during 2019-20.

"In the last few terms, there were a lot of votes along party lines on both sides," Boehm said.

'Why not' a column C?

Rep. Barbara Shaw, D-Manchester, called it a "small change," but one many families desire.

"Why can't there just be a third column?" Shaw asked. "Why do we have only A and B, why can't we have C?"

Rep. Sue Mullen, D-Bedford, stressed that the bill specified that a parent or guardian — not the student — would request this designation on a child's behalf.

But Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry, said the change could lead to delays or confusion for a school nurse caring for a student identifying as non-binary.

"We don't want to put their physical health at risk, nor do we want to put their mental health at risk," Layon said.

In 2019, New Hampshire became the 13th state with a law permitting residents to identify as non-binary on their driver's licenses.

The Department of Education has estimated it would cost $20,000 for changes in state software to track the changes in all districts.

"Why would you vote not to allow parents to assist their children? I don't get it," said Rep. Stephen Woodcock, D-Center Conway.

Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, said many local districts already use such a check box and the decision should be left up to local school boards.

"I do not think it is necessary," Cordelli said.

Query said estimates are one in five New Hampshire students identify as LGBTQ, which would equal about 60,000 statewide.

"For them, this is not just a box, it is not just a name, it is a lot more than that. It is being heard, it is being seen," Query said.

The recommendation comes to the full House of Representatives for a final vote early in the 2022 session.

In a related matter, the same panel voted 20-0 to kill legislation (HB 198) preventing a transgender youth born as male from competing in female sports at public schools.

This recommendation also comes to the full House of Representatives for a final vote early in the 2022 session.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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