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The Dartmouth
April 18, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dartmouth students and state legislators voice opposition to ‘parental bill of rights’

Students and legislators speak out against Senate Bill 272, which would force New Hampshire teachers to disclose students’ changes to their gender identity to parents.

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Source: New Hampshire State House Education Committee livestream

On April 18, the New Hampshire State House Education Committee held a public hearing over Senate Bill 272, known as the “parental bill of rights.” According to House representative Loren Selig, D-Strafford, approximately 400 people, including legislators and members of the public, testified for or against the bill from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The bill would require teachers from the kindergarten through high school level to notify a student’s parents if a student discloses information about their sexuality or gender identity, Selig added. The New Hampshire State Senate voted to pass SB 272 on March 16, sending it to the House for a final vote in the coming weeks. 

Proponents of the bill claimed it stops teachers from hiding information from parents, while its detractors argued the bill forces queer and transgender youth to “come out,” Elaine Xiao ’25, who identifies as non-binary, said. 

Xiao testified at the hearing as part of the New Hampshire Youth Movement and noted that opinions seemed “pretty split down the middle” both among the general public and representatives.

According to Selig, wealthy figures such as businessmen Charles and David Koch invested large sums of money and used their political sway to “make [the New Hampshire] government as conservative as possible” and push for the bill’s adoption. 

“Because of their financial resources, [the Koch brothers] can draft documents like this one and submit them to state legislatures across the country,” Selig said.

House representative Jared Sullivan, D-Grafton, said that he has been speaking with the Republicans who might be more averse to the bill since Democrats need Republican support to block its passage. He explained his across-the-aisle appeal rests on countering the notion that teachers are grooming students to identify as LGBTQ+.

House representative Robert Lynn, R-Rockingham, said he is concerned that “schools are withholding information from parents.” He cited the Manchester School District’s mandate, which requires that teachers not reveal students’ gender nonconforming status to their parents, as an example.

Selig said she has tried to remind everyone that teachers teach out of care for their students, not  to “corrupt young minds.” She added that children need safe adults in their lives other than their parents.  

“We need to give children safe adults they can reach out and talk to,” Selig said. “I encourage my kids to create a community for themselves. Sometimes they fight with me or my husband because we’re their parents, and that’s a natural progression, but we know they have other adults they can turn to in those moments.” 

At the hearing, Sullivan recounted his experience of “coming to terms” with his identity as a bisexual man, along with a story of a man he knew whose family disowned him once they discovered he was gay. 

“[The man] was lucky he wasn’t outed by a teacher because these sorts of bills weren’t a thing back then,” Sullivan said. “But had they existed, he might’ve been outed to his parents at an earlier time, and who knows what the consequences are when a 15-year-old, gay student is disowned.”

Meanwhile, Lynn said that he does not believe most students would face abuse or neglect in the case of disclosure. 

“In the overwhelming majority of cases, schools would like to spare children from having to have difficult conversations with their parents, but I’m sorry,” Lynn said. “That’s life.”

Lynn compared students’ reluctance to tell their parents about their gender identities to their hesitance over sharing failing grades.

“If a child is flunking Algebra II, they might feel that their parents will think they’re a failure, but the school isn’t allowed to not tell the parents in that case,” he said. “It’s important information.”

Sullivan said that although the majority of Republicans support the bill, sharing personal stories could help evoke “signs of empathy.” 

“I’m moved by the analysis of data, but most people do not get impacted that way, which is an interesting realization — they’re moved by personal stories,” he said. “If there’s a story to be told, you should tell that story.” 

Sullivan still noted that an LGBTQ+ teen is four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers who are not a part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I’m going to look right at the Republicans and say ‘Hey, this bill will lead to someone killing themselves who didn’t need to kill themselves,’” Sullivan said. “‘When that happens, will you be okay with it?’”

Xiao said they were surprised to see that they were one of the few young people at the hearing. 

“It was interesting to see that there was no youth representation in the room when that’s who the policy would directly affect,” Xiao said.

They added that students should become more involved in public policy, especially at Dartmouth where students tend to stay in a “bubble.”

“These policies might not directly affect us [as college students], but they are part of a national tide against the queer and trans community,” Xiao said. “It felt isolating to be super involved in this and come back to campus, where a lot of people don’t know what’s going on.”

Selig noted that college students can submit letters to statewide newspapers, draw attention from the national press, call their representatives, submit written testimonies on state legislatures’ online websites and arrange press conferences at state houses to get involved.