LGBTQ, Child Welfare, and Public Education Advocate Statements on Senate Passage of HB 1431, New Hampshire’s Version of a “Don’t Say Gay” ‘Parental Rights’ Bill

LGBTQ, Child Welfare, and Public Education Advocate Statements on Senate Passage of HB 1431, New Hampshire’s Version of a “Don’t Say Gay” ‘Parental Rights’ Bill

HB 1431 will create unsafe learning environments for students, risk their mental health, and undermine the state’s obligation to provide an adequate and inclusive education for all students

CONCORD, NH – Today, the NH Senate passed HB 1431, a so-called ‘parental bill of rights’ that removes community protections for children. The bill is strongly opposed by advocates for public education, child welfare, and LGBTQ rights; all raised serious concerns during the legislative process that the bill will put children at risk and limit the opportunity for students to reach out to trusted adults at school if they are in a vulnerable or dangerous situation.

The LGBTQ community is especially concerned about HB 1431 as the bill would require mandatory, immediate disclosure to parents about student club and extracurricular activities, school counselor visits, and changes in gender identity and expression at school. This will cause harm to LGBTQ students and undermine school efforts to create an affirming learning environment for all students.

Community leaders from across the state offer the following statements: 

Linds Jakows, TransActionNH: “No LGBTQ student should be deprived of the safety and affirmation a public school can provide. Everyone who supports LGBTQ students must contact Governor Sununu to veto this dangerous bill.”

Emma Sevigny, Children’s Behavioral Health Policy Coordinator, New Futures: “HB 1431 undermines the important work our state lawmakers, community agencies, and state officials have put toward building a comprehensive System of Care for children with behavioral health needs, and could put our children at risk. This legislation would erect barriers, preventing authorities from identifying children and families in need of intervention and resources to prevent abuse and neglect. Further, it could prevent many students from discussing and exploring important issues, including gender and sexual identities, at school.  Denying a child the ability to maintain their individuality at school in this way is detrimental to their mental health and wellbeing, and could put children at risk of abuse when parents do not approve of their chosen self-expression. For the benefit of New Hampshire’s youth and families, New Futures urges Governor Sununu to veto HB 1431 if it is sent to his desk.”

Chris Erchull, Staff Attorney, GLAD: “School is where young people are most likely to interact with adults they can trust outside of their families. Schools can play an important role in helping students engage in difficult conversations at home. That support is all the more important given increased mental health challenges many adolescents are experiencing due to the pandemic. For LGBTQ students, this crucial role can add value to one of the most sensitive and important family conversations of their lives. This legislation will take that support away from students and instead force educators to interfere with families by outing students before they are ready.”

Sarah Robinson, Education Justice Campaign Director for Granite State Progress: “HB 1431 would have a similar chilling effect on classroom exchanges as the divisive concepts legislation passed last session. Children have the right to a safe, healthy, and supportive environment, and to receive a strong education that prepares them to meet the challenges of the future.” 

Deb Howes, President, AFT-NH: “AFT-NH is greatly disappointed by the NH Senate’s passage of the Parental Bill of Rights. We strongly believe in productive communication between teachers and parents, but this bill is so sweeping that it would chill confidences vulnerable children want to have with trusted teachers or other school staff. We wish every child came from a safe and loving home where they could share all their concerns with their parents without fear of harm, but this is not always the case. Children dealing with personal issues who don’t feel safe talking to a parent but want to confide in a school employee would lose much-needed protection for their social and emotional health. This bill would make it impossible for teachers and school staff to treat classrooms and schools as safe zones for all students, including the most vulnerable.”

Megan Tuttle, President, NEA-New Hampshire: “Parents and teachers in New Hampshire have been working together for a long time to ensure our schools consistently provide what’s best for our children and their education. Instead of building upon the on-going parent-teacher relationship, HB 1431 takes the opposite approach. Its broad language around so-called rights and notice, particularly on the heels of the banned concepts law, coupled with the threat of litigation will only provoke a greater chill in our schools. Rather than working to encourage educators to make their schools and classrooms welcoming, safe places for all students, HB 1431 installs a system based on vague rules and intimidation. The Senate vote puts us on the path to lawyers running our classrooms, not educators. No one has yet answered the question as to where this bill ends. HB 1431 seems to pit one parent’s right to direct their child’s education experience against the exclusion of another’s simply by virtue of being in the same class or school together. There is nothing compelling us to pass this legislation other than the high stakes politics of the moment, not the well-being of our children.”

Heidi Carrington Heath, Executive Director, NH Council of Churches: “The New Hampshire Council of Churches is deeply disappointed in the Senate vote on HB 1431. On behalf of clergy and congregations across the state of New Hampshire, we do not believe this was the faithful response. Children are among the most sacred in our tradition, and every child deserves to feel safe, loved, and well cared for in school.  Particularly children who may be vulnerable, or otherwise at-risk at home. Children are sacred, autonomous beings worthy of rights and protection. A core responsibility of our legislators is to consider the impact of each piece of legislation on the most vulnerable population it is directed toward. Today we failed to love and care for our youngest neighbors in this way.”

Frank Knaack, Policy Director, ACLU of New Hampshire: “LGBTQ people belong, and sometimes schools are the only place for LGBTQ youth to feel safe being who they are. This bill could force teachers and counselors to disclose the confidential records of LGBTQ youth, potentially placing these students at risk of harm. This bill is an unconscionable attack on New Hampshire’s LGBTQ youth.”

Zandra Rice Hawkins, Executive Director, Granite State Progress: “Parents have rights, but so do children. New Hampshire is failing to protect children when we elevate parental rights over the safety and security of our youth. Responsible, engaged, and supportive parents already have strong relationships with their children and the school. But sadly not every parent is loving or supportive, and our child welfare department knows all too well the dangerous situations some children experience. This bill sets a dangerous precedent. Politicians in Concord are putting kids at risk simply to score political points.”

Background: HB 1431 is based in ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) model legislation and is part of a nation-wide effort by the far-right to further target public schools, undermine an honest education, and block diversity, equity, and inclusion justice. The bill passed the House and Senate with different versions; the NH House must now concur, non-concur, or request a committee of conference. If the House concurs, the bill is headed to Governor Chris Sununu’s desk.