MANCHESTER, NH – On Monday, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) voted 10-2-2 to approve an amendment to its policies prohibiting the discrimination of transgender students.
The amendments, which were recently recommended by the BOSC Policy Committee by a 4-1 vote, were proposed to put the Manchester School District in line with a state law passed in 2019 prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.
The sole vote in opposition during that policy committee meeting came from Arthur Beaudry (Ward 9), who continued expressing concern with the proposal. He felt that the proposal could open the district up to risk of litigation, noting a lawsuit last year in Connecticut where a transgender policy violated Title IX. Beaudry also noted legislation from Idaho that recommended limiting access to scholastic sports based by gender at birth due to the fear that cisgender girls would have an unfair advantage against some transgender girls.
“I have a daughter, and I would not want her to play sports with a person of the opposite sex,” he said.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig replied to Beaudry’s comments with a recent executive order by President Joseph Biden prohibiting discrimination of transgender individuals in the U.S. Military, adding that transgender and non-transgender students should be able to learn without fear of being locked out of bathrooms or locker rooms.
After approval by the BOSC, Craig noted that the action brought the District into compliance the policies of the NH School Boards Association, and the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) by-laws as well as the new state law, with approximately a third of other school districts across the state now with similar policies in place.
“All students, including trans and gender non-conforming students, deserve to feel safe and accepted in our schools, and I’m glad that the Board of School Committee voted to put protections and policies in place make it easier for trans students to learn and thrive,” said Craig in a statement.
Beaudry also voiced concern after hearing some students were too afraid to enter bathrooms, with Craig replying that such concerns should be addressed.
The other primary concerns over the policy came from Kathleen Kelly-Arnold (Ward 2) and Peter Perich (Ward 8), who did not directly oppose the proposal. Kelly-Arnold felt uncomfortable with making a decision on it given her limited knowledge, asking for more time and outreach to parents across the city that did not understand what the policies entailed. Perich supported the majority of the proposal and pushed back on those who believe schools should disclose gender identity of students to parents, given that in some cases parents may become abusive to children if they learn of a transgender status. However, he did say schools will inform all parents about instances of bullying and also felt that it may be better to provide access single-person unisex bathrooms to transgender students as has been done in the past.
Student BOSC Member Kellen Barbee felt that placing transgender students in separate bathrooms seemed like segregation and urged the board to pass the policy.
As evident by the vote, the majority of the board shared Barbee’s sentiment, with several BOSC members referencing the comments of James Porter (Ward 1).
Porter, who has coached youth sports for 30 years and has coached transgender youth athletes, said he did research regarding safety worries brought forth by some of his constituents and learned that statistics indicated LGBTQ students are more often the victims of abuse rather than perpetrators. He stated that according to data from various sources, assault of transgender students is higher in schools where access to bathrooms and locker rooms are not allowed based on gender identity.
Jeremy Dobson (Ward 5) felt that more communication to the public was needed on this issue, as many reactions he heard came from hard-held beliefs rather than the actual policy itself, also noting that the district was likely five to six years behind where it should be on this topic given the district’s affirmation toward equity for students approved last year.
“You can’t demand equity in one place and not demand it somewhere else,” he said.
District Attorney Kathryn Cox-Pelletier said that if the BOSC did not pass the amendments, the district could be in legal jeopardy given the new state law. She also noted that all students had the right to privacy as well, which would apply if they felt uncomfortable being around a transgender student.
Only Beaudry and Joseph Lachance (At-Large) voted against the measure, with Perich and Kelly-Arnold voting to abstain. Kelly Thomas (Ward 12) was absent.