Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed three bills July 5 that touch on controversial cultural issues regarding the LGBTQ+ community. The bills included a transgender athlete ban, restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors and limitations on gender identity discussion in elementary schools.
“For campaign purposes only, Republicans are serving up a triple threat of political culture wars using government to invade the rights and responsibilities of parents and doctors, hurting vulnerable children and damaging our state’s reputation and economy like they did with the harmful bathroom bill,” Cooper wrote in his veto message. “Instead of scheming for the next election, Republicans should get to work investing in our public schools and teachers, lowering the cost of living and creating more stability for middle class families.”
The bills now head back to the legislature, where veto overrides by the Republican supermajority are likely.
What bills did Cooper veto?
House Bill 574, dubbed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” would prohibit transgender women and girls from playing for women’s sports teams in middle and high school, as well as in colleges and universities.
“We don’t need politicians inflaming their political culture wars by making broad, uninformed decisions about an extremely small number of vulnerable children that are already handled by a robust system that relies on parents, schools and sports organizations,” Cooper wrote. He added that even Republican governors had also vetoed similar bills.
In a statement, state Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican, said that Cooper had “no interest in supporting female athletes, only his far-left donors that want to erase women by refusing to acknowledge biology.” House Bill 808, which passed the General Assembly along party lines, would restrict certain types of gender-affirming care for transgender minors.
“A doctor’s office is no place for politicians, and North Carolina should continue to let parents and medical professionals make decisions about the best way to offer gender care for their children,” Cooper wrote, adding that the bill would order doctors to “stop following approved medical protocols.”
State Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Forsyth County Republican, said Cooper was “turning a blind eye to the protection of children,” and referenced how other countries have been restricting the “open-door policy” of allowing gender-reassignment procedures for minors.
Senate Bill 49, the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” passed the General Assembly along party lines in late June. It would bar curriculum on gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grades in all public schools. It would also require teachers and public school employees to tell parents if their children change their names or pronouns on school records.
Cooper called SB 49 a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, in reference to the moniker given to a similar bill that garnered national attention in Florida. He also wrote that the bill would “scare teachers into silence by injecting fear and uncertainty into classrooms.”
“Gov. Cooper continues to mislead the public about the Parents’ Bill of Rights so he can drum up manufactured outrage and rake in donations,” state Sens. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, and Michael Lee, a New Hanover County Republican, said in a joint statement. “This bill encourages collaboration, promotes transparency, and keeps classrooms focused on educating, not indoctrinating.”
Transgender Athlete Ban HB 574, the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” had passed the General Assembly with the support of two Democrats, state Rep. Michael Wray of Halifax County and state Sen. Val Applewhite of Fayettevile. The rest of the affirmative votes were Republicans.
Wray told The News & Observer that he voted the same way he voted last time, and declined to comment further. Applewhite said it was a “tough decision to make” that was based off conversations she had with coaches, umpires and other constituents in her district. “I even reached out to some members of the LGBTQ community who said they understood it as well. I think it’s a misnomer to think that everyone in that community feels the same way, they’re not one groupthink.”
The bill bans “students of the male sex” from playing on all “athletic teams designated for females, women, or girls.” It applies to all public middle and high schools, as well as private middle and high schools that play against a team required to follow the provisions of the bill or if the school is a member of an interscholastic athletic organization.
For “institutions of higher education,” which includes all public and private colleges and universities, the bill applies to all athletic teams that are part of an “intercollegiate athletic program,” including the NCAA. The constitutionality of such bans is currently being debated.
In 2021, West Virginia passed a similar law that is currently on hold because of an order by a federal appeals court issued in February. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in the case. The law is being challenged on Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX grounds. If the veto is overridden and the bill passes into law, North Carolina would join 22 other states in banning transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors
HB 808 would prohibit surgical gender transition procedures and puberty blockers for minors, creating penalties for doctors who perform the treatments — including having their medical licenses revoked. Some exceptions are made, such as procedures for children with sex development disorders. The bill is part of a broader, nationwide push — 20 other states, primarily Republican controlled, have recently banned gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
The neighboring states of Virginia and South Carolina currently do not have such bans. A handful of Democratic-controlled states have responded by passing “shield” laws that protect access to gender-affirming care. The bill has faced pushback, including at a rally outside the Legislative Building and at hearings full of emotional testimony. When the N.C. Senate passed the bill, protesters in the gallery chanted, “Protect trans kids!” as they were escorted out by police.
“This bill is not about keeping our children safe,” Senate Democratic Whip Jay Chaudhuri said during debate. “This bill represents yet another example of government overreach.” The bill, however, also found some supporters.
“Why in the world would we let children be mutilated under the age of 21?” North Carolina attorney Kevin Sisson asked a committee during public comment. “It’s ridiculous.”
“Parents’ Bill of Rights” or Don’t Say Gay?
SB 49 would bar curriculum on gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grades in all public schools. It would also require teachers and public school employees to tell parents if their children change their names or pronouns on school records. A similar bill had passed the Senate in 2022, but did not get a vote in the House. Republicans did not have a veto-proof supermajority at the time.
The Parents’ Bill of Rights has many other provisions beyond those about pronouns and gender identity. For example, the bill would require schools to make textbooks and other materials available for parental review at the schools and online; allow parents to withhold consent for participation in surveys discussing topics such as political beliefs and sexual behavior; and allow parents to see what books their child has borrowed from the school’s library.
When the bill was being considered in the House, the Republicans invoked a rule that limited the amount of time spent debating the bill. Democratic lawmakers said they felt silenced by the Republican majority, while House Speaker Tim Moore argued that it was “just a tool that the majority is choosing to use to progress the bill along.” In the Senate, though, lawmakers supporting and opposing the bill took turns to make impassioned speeches.
“I think what we’re seeing here is the last vestiges of efforts to erase the LGBTQ community,” said Sen. Lisa Grafstein, a Wake County Democrat. “What I see in these bills is that some people just claim this mythological past where everyone lived in sort of a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ world — that was never really true.”
But Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, said the bill’s purpose is “that parents in North Carolina should be empowered to raise their children the way that they see fit in their family without being questioned or interrogated or undermined by the state of North Carolina.”
Opponents of the bill voiced their concerns at hearings. “The extremely upsetting reality for one in three students who identify as being queer, including myself at one point, is that they are not in homes that affirm their identity,” said Hannah Wilson, a teacher at the Durham School of Technology.
“Although there are provided exceptions to reporting names and pronouns to parents, the reality is that we can not understand or guess what will happen when a student goes home.” Conservative speakers at the hearings argued that parental rights trump the wishes of students.
‘”We have compassion for individuals who are struggling with identity issues and gender dysphoria,” said John Rustin, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council. “However, for a school to willfully withhold this information from parents is a breach of trust and a violation of the parents’ right to know, especially when a student has publicly requested to be called by a different name or pronouns by their teachers and fellow students.”