This month, children are getting back into the swing of school across the Granite State. That includes transgender children, who might find their acceptance in class harder or easier, depending on how receptive school administrators are to protecting them from discrimination.
That’s because, although New Hampshire has statewide guidance instructing schools to have policies in place that protect transgender students’ freedom to learn in a safe environment free from the threat of discrimination, each school has adopted these policies at their own pace.
Currently, 16 school districts in New Hampshire have explicit policies—but they’re also under attack, most recently in Candia, where anti-transgender scare tactics pushed the Candia School Board to repeal its transgender-inclusive protections.
It’s this situation that leaves Dan Kusch and Andrea Valiante feeling lucky. Both have children in school who are gender non-conforming, and who have experienced (and overcome) unique challenges because of that. But both also live in school districts that have been overwhelmingly cooperative and understanding. But they also worry that won’t be the case outside the classroom, since New Hampshire has no explicit statewide nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.
Dan Kusch’s son Gus is genderfluid—meaning he doesn’t identify as male or female, but expresses characteristics of both. While many people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth express themselves by wearing androgynous clothing, Gus’s inherent sense of gender is something fluid, in between or outside of male or female.
He wears his hair long, and dresses in more feminine clothing. He’s fielded the occasional taunt from a classmate, including the question, “what are you?” But Gus, confident in who he is, just shrugs it off with that perennial teenage catchphrase: “Whatever.”
“Folks in Gus’s school have been so great to say we need to put these policies in place for Gus,” Dan says. “But the school district also knows it already has many gender-creative kids in it at all age levels. This isn’t just about Gus. It’s about making a gender-safe school district for everyone.”
That’s why he’s happy to report that the school district just began the process of codifying its nondiscrimination policy—with overwhelming school board support—and that it has been well received by the community.
“Folks in Gus’s school have been so great to say we need to put these policies in place for Gus,” Dan says. “But the school district also knows it already has many gender-creative kids in it at all age levels. This isn’t just about Gus. It’s about making a gender-safe school district for everyone.”—Dan Kusch
Andrea says the same about Ben’s school in Derry. After expressing himself as male throughout toddlerhood—Ben was assigned female at birth—he told his mom that he’d always been a boy, and even sometimes asks, ”Mama why did you ever think I was anything else?”
So Andrea opened a dialogue with the school district, to let them know that Ben was transgender. His public transition, between fourth and fifth grade, was smooth and seamless—thanks, largely, to the compassion and understanding of school administrators in Derry.
“Our school district has been amazing,” Andrea says—though she knows that’s not always the case for parents and transgender children.
“I have local friends in New Hampshire that have had very challenging, heartbreaking experiences,” when they’ve tried to get their local school districts to affirm their children the way the Derry School District affirmed Ben. “Their children have been bullied, pulled from school, and homeschooled. That’s not OK.”
It was these experiences of other transgender children, as well as their worries about what happens when their children leave school grounds or graduate into the adult world, that led both Dan and Andrea into the movement to update New Hampshire’s Law Against Discrimination so that it protects transgender people from discrimination.
Both Andrea and Dan worry their children won’t find the same acceptance they’ve found at school. If #TransLawNH isn’t passed to protect transgender people in housing, employment and public accommodations, discrimination could put the brakes on their futures.
“When you move into adulthood, life opens up, you’re really involved with so many more facets of society. What happens to Ben in those situations? When he goes to apply for a loan, get a job, rent a place?”—Andrea Valiante
“He has a lot of hopes and dreams,” Dan says of Gus. “He’s only a few years away from his first job, and the idea that he might not be received as an applicant, or not chosen for an interview because of bias is heartbreaking.”
Andrea echoes these concerns.
“When you move into adulthood, life opens up, you’re really involved with so many more facets of society. What happens to Ben in those situations? When he goes to apply for a loan, get a job, rent a place?”
There are so many more situations he’ll be navigating alone, she says. So before that day comes, #TransBillNH needs to be in place.
If you’re a parent, educator or anyone who agrees with Andrea and Dan that all Granite Staters should be protected from discrimination, sign the Freedom New Hampshire pledge to support #TransBillNH.