Featured photo: Demonstrators hold signs at the General Assembly outside the gallery to the House chamber on Wednesday afternoon calling on lawmakers to protect LGBTQ Youth. (photo by Rob Schofield)

This story was originally published by NC Newsline, story by Joe Killian

The North Carolina General Assembly overturned a series of Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes late Wednesday, passing into law two bills that roll back rights for LGBTQ youth in the state.

House Bill 808 prohibits gender-affirming medical care for those under 18, including treatment advised by their doctors and to which their parents consent.

House Bill 574, the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” prohibits transgender women from participating on most middle, high school and college level sports teams that align with their gender identities.

The bills passed on largely party-line votes. Two Democratic lawmakers, State Representatives Michael Wray (D-Halifax) and N.C. Rep. Garland Pierce (D-Scotland), voted with Republicans on both bills.

GOP lawmakers and conservative activists contend each of the bills are necessary to protect children. Democrats and an array of progressive advocacy groups — along with major mainstream medical associations like the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association — say they will further alienate LGBTQ children who already have higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation.

“The legislature finally comes back to pass legislation that discriminates, makes housing less safe, blocks FEMA disaster recovery funding, hurts the freedom to vote and damages our economy,” Cooper said of the veto overrides in a statement Wednesday. “Yet they still won’t pass a budget when teachers, school bus drivers and Medicaid Expansion for thousands of working people getting kicked off their health plans every week are desperately needed. These are the wrong priorities, especially when they should be working nights and weekends if necessary to get a budget passed by the end of the month.”

‘These parents have been ignored

The N.C. Values Coalition celebrated the overturning of Cooper’s vetoes, characterizing gender-affirming care that’s been available and heavily studied for decades as “experimental.”

“HB 808 is a compassionate bill which will protect gender confused youth from medical and trans activists, who urge children with mental health issues to permanently change their bodies by cutting off healthy body parts and consume cancer drugs not FDA-approved for gender transitioning,” said NC Values Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald in a statement after the veto override votes Wednesday.

Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association support gender affirming care for transgender youth and have condemned laws that prohibit it.

“This this may be the most heartbreaking bill in a truly heartbreaking session,” said Sen. Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake). “This bill tells parents how to raise their kids. It injects raw politics into these intimate, personal and family medical decisions.”

Families are now looking to move out of state so that they can follow the advice of their doctors on how to treat their children, Grafstein said.

“For all the talk of parents rights this session, and today, these parents have been ignored,” Grafstein said. “Their rights don’t appear to matter to folks who support this bill. Instead, the state’s going to dictate how these parents raise their children and how doctors are allowed to provide care to their patients. It’s apparent to me that the only parents who have rights are those who agree with the dictates that come out of this room about what you find to be acceptable parenting. And that’s wrong.”

North Carolina joins 17 other states with Republican legislative majorities in passing such a ban on gender affirming care for minors, with states like Kansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas introducing bills that would extend the ban to adults.

“We need to call this what it is: an all-out attack on queer and transgender youth in North Carolina,” said Allison Scott, director of Impact & Innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality, in a statement Wednesday. “The NCGA is going out of its way to blatantly enact the far-Right’s anti-LGBTQ wish list, causing harm and discrimination to young people in every area of life, from school to the doctor’s office to the athletic fields. You would have thought that the NCGA would have learned its lesson from HB2 and the havoc it caused for our state and our communities.”

Equality NC condemned the veto overrides in its own statement Wednesday.

“The disrespect and disregard shown for the people of North Carolina by this body is contemptible – and it all serves the purpose of bullying trans kids and their families in service of an extreme agenda,” Equality NC wrote in the group’s statement. “We know that the people of North Carolina want their legislators to focus on bread-and-butter issues – not on passing hateful copy-paste legislation from national hate groups.”

The Campaign for Southern Equality and Equality NC have announced they will partner to bring the Southern Trans Youth Emergency Project to North Carolina, helping the families of trans youth travel to other states to get gender affirming care.

‘A sledgehammer when a scalpel is more appropriate

Advocates for House Bill 574, including current and former high school and college athletes, praised its passage Wednesday.

“I am thrilled that the North Carolina state legislature has voted to override Governor Cooper’s senseless veto of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” said Riley Gaines, a former All-American collegiate swimmer, in a statement Wednesday.

Gaines, who swam competitively for the University of Kentucky, has travelled the country arguing against the inclusion of transgender women in women’s sports since tying with Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman to win an NCAA title, in a swimming event last year. Gaines also appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with former President Donald Trump and in an ad for failed congressional candidate Herschel Walker.

“I have seen firsthand how female athletes at all levels and across various sports are losing not only awards but opportunities to compete at all,” Gaines said, making reference to Thomas. “This legislation puts an end to the unfair and discriminatory practice of ignoring biological differences.” Riley Gaines, a former All-American collegiate swimmer, speaks in favor of a ban on transgender women in women’s sports during an April committee meeting. (Image: N.C. House video feed)

As the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship in any sport, Thomas became a target for criticism and the face of what conservatives said was a looming transgender takeover of women’s sports. But her actual record doesn’t show the dominant performance advantages her critics — including Gaines — describe.

Thomas won the NCAA women’s 500-yard freestyle competition in 2022. But her time — 4 minutes, 32.24 seconds — wasn’t a record-breaker. She was more than 9 seconds behind the record set by Katie Ledecky, a cisgender woman, in 2017. There were 27 all-time NCAA records broken in overall competition — all by cisgender women, including N.C. State’s own Katharine Berkoff. Just one of those cisgender women, the University of Virginia’s Kate Douglass, broke 18 records — including an unprecedented three American records in three different strokes.

House Bill 574 expanded over the course of its consideration in the General Assembly and its committees. It began as a bill prohibiting students assigned male at birth from playing on public and some private middle and high school sports teams for women. In its final version, that prohibition is extended to public and private colleges that are part of any “intercollegiate athletic program,” such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Major sports organizations like the NCAA and North Carolina High School Athletic Association have existing policies that allow transgender students to participate within certain frameworks. The new law will impact those policies, with the NCHSAA saying it prefers fewer barriers for students but will follow the law. The NCAA recently amended its own policies, moving to a sport-by-sport policy that essentially follows the world governing body rules for those sports.

It is not clear how the NCAA and other organizations will react to a rising tide of anti-LGBTQ policies in states with Republican majorities, at least 20 of which have passed bans on transgender athletes participating according to their gender identities this year alone.

N.C. Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), a competitive college athlete who competed at the Olympic level, strongly opposed the bill.

“I swam in the 1970 Olympics,”  Morey said Wednesday during the House debate. “I was beaten by women who were abusing performance enhancing drugs. The government didn’t step in. The Olympic Committee did. It was the right way to do it. But this bill that affects 10, 11, 12-year-olds, who are just starting to learn about athletics, about competition about sportsmanship. To some of these kids, it can be their lifeline to self-confidence.”

N.C. Sen. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe) echoed those sentiments during the Senate debate, saying the bill “uses a sledgehammer when a scalpel is more appropriate.”

“All sports associations from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association to the NCAA already have policies on the participation of transgender athletes in sports,” Mayfield said. “And we would do better to let those associations, which are closest to the issue, to use their expertise and experience to manage this issue.”

“Transgender people are a very small percentage of our population, maybe less than two percent,” Mayfield said. “The number of high school and college age people who identify as transgender is even smaller. And the number of those who seek to participate in athletics is even smaller, with the number of transgender girls only a small fraction of that.”

“Indeed, since 2019, here in North Carolina, there have been 17 requests under the NCHSSA policy,” Mayfield said. “One was denied. Sixteen were approved. Two of those 16 were transgender girls — out of 180,000 high school athlete athletes in North Carolina. That’s it .0001 percent. And these kids, these two girls, they are not trying to destroy women’s sports.”

Robinson comments loom over debate

In their comments during the Senate debate, several Democratic senators made reference to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who presided over Wednesday’s session. Robinson, who is now running for the GOP nomination for governor, has a long history of anti-LGBTQ remarks, including referring to transgender people as “filth.”

Mark Robinson

Grafstein expressed disappointment in the passage of the bills, but also in her Republican colleagues’ refusal to stand up for LGBTQ people during the long and contentious process leading to their passage, veto and Wednesday’s veto override.

“I’m sorry to say [they] have stood literally and figuratively, behind someone who’s called the LGBTQ community filth,” Grafstein said. “And who has said that a church flying a rainbow flag is spitting in the face of God, and countless other anti-LGBTQ statements.”

Mayfield also made veiled reference to Robinson during the debate.

“They are not evil or deranged, or even misguided,” Mayfield said of transgender youth.  “And they are certainly not filth. They are just children trying to find their way trying to find acceptance and support, trying to participate as their peers do, trying to belong.”

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: [email protected]. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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