HAMPTON — Two competing groups of protesters clashed outside Winnacunnet High School Thursday at an upcoming teacher training on how best to address the concerns of LGBTQ+ students.
The training is scheduled for September 13 and will be conducted by the Seacoast Outright organization. The group will explain how teachers can respond to LGBTQ+ students in crisis regarding their gender identity, according to school officials and the organization.
While Seacoast Outright is a nonprofit that provides resources related to LGBTQ+ issues, residents who rallied to oppose the training on Thursday accused the group of trying to politicize students.
“Stop the grooming”, “Let children be children”, “Education, not indoctrination” and other messages were scrawled on signs held by protesters outside WHS in opposition to the training. Across the parking lot, a group of counter-protesters including WHS students held signs reading “Teaching Tolerance and Respect” and “LGBTQ Support Is Not Political.”
After:The Exeter student-athlete’s ‘only two sexes’ trial is moving forward. Here is what the judge said.
Those who rallied against the formation said they believed Seacoast Outright was a political organization based on its support for groups like Black Lives Matter. They also said they were concerned that teachers could be involved in family decisions about whether a student should have gender confirmation surgery.
“Are they going to recommend puberty blockers to students? You just don’t know,” said Ann Marie Banfield, one of the protesters who came to WHS.
The group of counter-protesters included Chris Muns, chairman of the Hampton Democrats, as well as Hampton Selectwoman Amy Hansen, who worked for years in Hampton schools. Hansen said the training was important because of how challenging middle and high schools can be for LGBTQ+ students. She said teachers should have the opportunity to learn how best to approach topics related to gender and sexuality so that students feel supported.
“There are a lot of gay people in our community, and that segment of the population, regardless of what you have in life, is so tricky in middle school, high school, and even younger,” Hansen said. “I think it’s an amazing opportunity for teachers to just have the knowledge.”
A volley of chants went back and forth from group to group as leaders on both sides spoke through megaphones. Protesters against Seacoast Outright called out chants against “indoctrination”, while counter-protesters chanted “Children need to feel safe to learn” and “we love children”.
Teacher training will continue as planned
Seacoast Outright sent a letter to members of the SAU 21 school board on Wednesday ahead of the protest, saying they were aware of a “small local group that reacted in response” to the upcoming training. They said they believe the response was “based on inaccurate information” and clarified that Seacoast Outright is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to “serve, support and advocate for LGBTQ+ youth in the area of Seacoast and beyond”.
SAU 21 Superintendent Meredith Nadeau said the training should go ahead as planned. Nadeau said he heard concerns from parents that Seacoast Outright was a political group and that the training would involve medical leadership.
“Medical treatment is not something that’s going to be part of this training,” Nadeau said. “This training is really about affirming and supporting all of the children in our schools.”
Nadeau said this is the first time Seacoast Outright has worked with SAU 21. She said the school district has conducted an equity audit for the past few years, asking teachers about professional development needs.
“It was one of the elements identified by the teachers at the time,” Nadeau said.
The rally took place just as the SAU 21 Joint Committee was due to meet at 4 p.m., although the formation itself was not on the agenda to be discussed that day. Former Hampton congresswoman Regina Barnes, who also ran as a Republican for the state Senate last year, said the timing was right to get their message across to board members. .
“We’ve had grassroots parents who want to protest politics in schools,” Barnes said. “I just wanted to let the policy committee meeting today know that.”
Nadeau said the training is important because of the prevalence of suicide and bullying experienced by LGBTQ+ students. She said data as recent as last year shows that more than half of LGBTQ+ students in New Hampshire are seriously considering suicide, and more than half say they’ve been assaulted or bullied.
“In a district of 2,400 kids, that means we have about 170 students who identify as LGBTQ+, and that means 85 of them have seriously considered suicide,” Nadeau said. “I think it’s important as educators to focus on knowing this information and being prepared to support these students as best we can.”