In today’s extreme partisan divide, it’s a rare thing to find middle ground, especially when it comes to complex and controversial issues. All too often, human instinct induces us to stake out a position that falls on one end of the political spectrum or the other.  Fortunately, New Hampshire is better at finding middle ground than most other states. Our legislature brings together a diverse range of opinions and experiences . Although we often find ourselves at odds over details, we’re all interested in the same core objectives –  a better Granite State in which to live, work, and raise our children.

One of the hot topics during this legislative session has been the question of how to approach traditional distinctions based on biological sex, especially with respect to women’s sports, prison facilities, and intimate spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms. People on both ends of the spectrum tend to frame this debate as an all-or-nothing proposition, arguing that we must either deny the lived experiences of transgender people in our state, or we must dispense altogether with long-standing gender-based norms that govern privacy, modesty, safety, and fairness.

The issue at hand has been intentionally blurred by partisan activists.  The real question is: “Can we navigate this ‘new normal’ in a way that respects the rights of everyone in our state?”  In other words: Can’t we all just get along?

As we grapple with that question, school boards and public school administrators across the state have been caught in the crossfire. Unsure how to address non-binary and trans students in areas such as athletics, bathrooms and locker rooms, school officials have faced potential litigation, extreme divisiveness within their communities, and the public relations nightmare that often comes from taking any action at all.  Responses have ranged from the reasonable, such as adding single-stall unisex bathrooms, to the absurd, such as Milford’s head-scratching decision to cover their urinals with plastic trash bags. It really shouldn’t have to be this hard.

The real issue is that our current law is not sufficiently clear, and that threatened lawsuits thrive on ambiguity. HB 396 is a compromise bill that does not dictate how any public or private entity must handle athletics, prisons, or intimate spaces. Rather, it re-asserts existing law to remove any ambiguity, stating that school officials and others are permitted to make distinctions based on biological sex. In other words, it allows for a reasoned approach based on local control.

For example, a school district might decide that in elementary and middle-school intramural sports, it is reasonable to allow transgender students to compete on teams that align with their gender identity. The same school district might decide that high school juniors and seniors, who might be aspiring to athletic scholarships, should compete in sporting events based on their biological sex. HB 396 does not dictate one approach or the other; it merely provides the latitude for local school officials to determine how best to balance the rights of everyone in their community.

To be clear, HB 396 does not impose any mandates whatsoever. It does, however, protect communities from unwarranted litigation and resolves ongoing arguments about the legality of distinctions based on biological sex. This bill empowers local communities to work together to find common-ground solutions.  At a time when the loudest voices are spurring on political divisiveness, HB 396 empowers local community leaders to find solutions that actually work.