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AFT-NH Testimony In Opposition to HB 1205 (women’s school sports)

Thank you, Chair Ward and Members of the Senate Education Committee for taking my testimony.

My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH. AFT-NH represents 3,700 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees and higher education faculty across New Hampshire. My members are parents and grandparents of Granite State public school students as well as local property taxpayers. Many of my members also coach school and community sports teams. We stand in opposition to HB 1205, relative to women’s school sports. 

HB 1205 looks to limit students to playing on middle and high school student athletic teams that coincide with the sex listed on their original birth certificate. AFT-NH stands in opposition to this bill because in order for students to be successful in school they need to feel welcome, safe, and a part of their school community. Every students needs to find the place they belong and connect to in their school community. For some it is excelling in academics, for some it is in music or drama club and for some it is in playing sports. This bill would force schools to discriminate against some students by either denying them the same opportunity to play sports as their peers have or forcing them to play on a team that does not align with how they and their families perceive their gender.  

When students join a school club, activity, or team, it is often a place where they feel they belong most, a place where they are taught to work together as a team and a place where they forge peer relationships with others their own age. For most kids, what they remember from their childhood sports experience, is the lifelong friendships they make. For many kids their sports teams are what keep them motivated to do well in school or sometimes to even show up at all. Forcing students to play on a team as a gender that feels false to them can sever that important bond, further isolating students and increasing the suicidality of an already vulnerable group of students. 

Even though this claims to be a straightforward bill, here are some points to consider about the impact this bill would have if passed.

  • This bill clearly violates the Title IX protections afforded to all students to be able to access educational programs and activities free from bias and discrimination. It also violates the NH nondiscrimination laws under RSA 354 A.
  • It also violates Title IX in another way. If a school does not have both a girls’ and a boys’ team in a particular sport, Title IX requires that an interested student be allowed to try out for the opposite sex team so that they have an opportunity to play. That is how we have had boys playing on girls’ field hockey teams and girls playing on boys’ ice hockey teams.
  • There could be unintended consequences. A policy very similar to this bill that required students to compete in the division that matched their original birth certificate resulted in a transgender boy winning the girls state high school wrestling championship for his weight class in 2017. The student had no choice but to compete in the girls’ division under the rules in place, even though he had been living as a boy for 2 years and had been under gender affirming medical treatment.
  • Even discussing bans like this encourages some to feel free to express bigotry and hatred. It encourages the worst kind of sexist stereotyping to be weaponized against students who just want to play sports. This past January, a junior varsity girl basketball player in Utah was confronted by an angry parent from the opposing team who challenged her participation in the game, insisting based on no evidence that she was a transgender girl. To be clear – according to the girl, her parents, and her coach, she is not. However – are we going to require that every student have to prove incredibly intimate details about themselves to the satisfaction of an angry crowd at a game? Are we going to enforce standards of “feminine” appearance and behavior so students can avoid false accusations? And who gets to decide what that is? Will this be a new requirement for any kids to play sports? 

We heard a lot from the supporters of bills like these that they are about fundamental fairness. Fundamental fairness is treating all of our students with respect. When you start separating students, segregating them based on certain characteristics and saying they cannot participate in activities not because they aren’t skilled enough but because of who they are, that is called discrimination. Saying that some discrimination is okay because trans students can still access club level sports sounds a lot like the old separate but not actually equal doctrine. We oppose passing any bill that would require public schools to discriminate against our students based on who they are. 

For the reasons stated above we ask you to find HB 1205 Inexpedient to Legislate.


Debrah Howes

President, AFT-New Hampshire

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