North Carolina’s General Assembly met for the first time in six weeks to override several bills vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, including three bills targeting trans and queer North Carolinians.

House minority leader Robert Reives II (D-Dist. 54) has spent the last few months working and rallying fellow Democrats to combat the Republican super majority’s efforts, but after the passage of House Bill 808, House Bill 574 and Senate Bill 49, many LGBTQ+ residents are feeling helpless and afraid.

Qnotes met with Reives on Wednesday, August 16, before the historic vote, to talk about what the next steps are and what Democrats need to do to break the supermajority.

Taylor Heeden: So, let’s introduce you to the QNotes audience. Tell us how long you’ve been in the legislature and where you’re from.

Robert Reives II: I’ve been serving as a state representative for District 54 for just about 10 years. There have been several iterations of the district — it started as Chatham and Lee Counties, Lee County is where I was born, then it became Chatham in Durham County and now its Chatham and Randolph counties.

TH: And where do you live now?

RR: Goldston, which is in Chatham County.

TH: So, as we sit here today, there are three anti-LGBTQ+ bills, two of which are in the house, are set to be passed despite the governor vetoing them a few weeks ago. Can you talk about the two bills in the House for our readers?

RR: Sure. HB 808 is about gender affirming care. For all intents and purposes, it does its best to prevent people under 18 from having that care by preventing doctors from having the ability to have conversations about that care. What’s bad about this is that we’re getting in the middle of medical decisions by parents and their children. This isn’t a situation where children are going in by themselves [and] making these decisions. You’ve usually got mental health workers, medical professionals, parents, the children all coming together to make a decision, and here we are, as the government, interfering with those decisions. And that, to me, is what is so dangerous about it.

We seem to spend a lot of time this session getting involved in personal medical decisions of people, and you can’t, especially with children, you just can’t continue to put yourselves in the state of the parents. That is really my biggest concern about that bill.

The other bill is House Bill 574, which requires the student sex to be recognized solely based on reproductive biology and genetics and doesn’t allow for trans girls to compete on women’s sports teams in middle school, high school or college. It also creates a civil cause of action for students who are harmed as a result of the violation of the bill or retaliations against reporting violations also create a civil cause of action for public school units that suffer harm as a result of following the requirements of the bill.

This is something that the North Carolina High School Athletic Association [NCHSAA] has already addressed. There’s a procedure in place anytime that you have a child that has been through transition to decide whether or not that person is eligible and not eligible to play a particular sport. There were no problems with that procedure. But again, here we are stepping in and you’ve only had fewer than five cases in the state where that’s happened to the best of my knowledge. So, why are we even getting involved again?

TH: If there’s already been policies set in place by organizations like NCHSAA, why is the General Assembly moving to create legislation?

RR: The cynical side would say that they’re writing the bills to draw attention to the matters so as to get people emotionally invested in these issues in a negative way. But also, I would say that we tend, unfortunately, as a body to overstep where we should be. I think that, as a legislature, what we should be concerned about are state issues that we don’t have the ability to address at different levels. Here, we’ve got an organization that we’ve authorized to address these issues … we tend to continue to say, if we don’t like the result that a particular organization comes up with, we’re just going to override the result and take it over ourselves. I just think that’s bad government.

Imagine if we were paying just as much attention to getting a state budget passed. If you really want to help schools, let counties know what they can pay their teachers. Let them know what kind of budget they’ve got coming from the state so they can set their budget for schools.

Those are the kind of things we could be concentrating on right now. But instead, we’re concentrating on issues that seem to do nothing else except for attacking, villainizing and dividing people.

TH: So after the legislature overrides these vetoes, what can you do as House Minority leader to combat the “damage that’s been done,” so to speak?

RR: My job is minority leader, and our job, being the minority party, is to draw attention to the matters and to also educate people on how to do something about them.

What you will see, in not just these bills, is a continual attack on minority groups. When you do that, what tends to happen is that a lot of us as minority groups almost kind of withdraw within ourselves. We see ourselves as the only ones being attacked in this situation, and don’t understand that an attack on one minority group is an attack on all minority groups.

The only way that we get things changed is if we come together as a collective, and that collective is actually a majority. That collective can help make the kind of change that we want to see, but something that we’ve got to do, as a minority party, is to make people understand that.

It’s really hard when you see some of these issues, people can be so visceral, and they do that to provide or cause such an emotional reaction, that again, we feel isolated from all the groups. But the truth is, if you sit down and educate folks and have conversations, you recognize that all of us are under the same attack.

We’ve all got to get together and put aside whatever differences we may have, or whatever thoughts we have to come together to make this government different, because this isn’t what government’s about. Government has never been about trying to oppress, trying to attack, trying to divide.

Good governments figure out ways to bring people together to help us see the differences in each other, and to help us learn to live together with those differences.

TH Is there anything you want to make sure you tell LGBTQ+ North Carolinians who feel scared after the vote today?

RR: You’re brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, family members. {You] deserve the exact same treatment as anybody else. I struggle to think of ever doing anything to harm someone, because of who they are, who they love, what they look like, where they come from.

What I want to do is create a safe space for all people in society, where you can feel good about being who you are. What I’ve seen growing up, and especially growing up in rural areas, is that there’s probably nothing worse to me than someone being stifled in who they want to be and what makes them happy. One of the things the Constitution emphasizes is to pursue life, liberty, and happiness and for us to do anything that bridges that ability is simply unconstitutional.

We’ve got to do better as a government by expanding that, and making sure that we’re clear on it. One of the great blessings I’ve had is being able to openly love the person that I love, and I want that feeling for everybody because nothing stabilizes a community [more] than people being able to be the best versions of themselves.

I will strive from a personal standpoint, whether I’m elected or not elected, whatever it is, to continue to make us a better society in that sense.

There is nothing to me that’s more exciting about a community than being able to find people who are completely different than you are and being able to experience their lives, to talk to them, interact with them, and interact in a good, comfortable way. So that is my promise.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *