North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed Wednesday a trio of bills aimed at LGBTQ+ youth that would ban gender-affirming health care for minors, restrict transgender participation in school sports and limit classroom instruction about gender identity and sexuality.
While LGBTQ+ rights advocates say Cooper's attempt to block the bills demonstrates his support amid what they view as unrelenting attacks from the General Assembly, his veto stamp carries little weight now that Republicans hold narrow veto-proof majorities in both chambers. His vetoes are not expected to survive override attempts, which could happen as soon as next week when lawmakers return from their Fourth of July break.
Cooper denounced the bills as “a triple threat of political culture wars” that he said would interfere with the ability of doctors and parents to care for vulnerable children whose lives have been thrust into the political spotlight and upended by legislation in dozens of Republican-led states.
Before this year, North Carolina had largely refrained from passing LGBTQ+ regulations after its 2016 “bathroom bill” — which restricted transgender access to public restrooms and banned cities from enacting new anti-discrimination ordinances — cost the state millions in lost business before it was rolled back in 2017 and settled in federal court in 2019. These policies, Cooper warned, could damage the state's reputation and economy in a similar way.
One of the three vetoed bills would bar North Carolina medical professionals from providing hormone therapy, puberty-blocking drugs and surgical gender-transition procedures to anyone under 18, with limited medical exceptions. Young people who begin treatment before Aug. 1 — when the law would take effect — could continue receiving treatment if their doctors deem it medically necessary and their parents consent.
Although some local LGBTQ+ rights advocates are holding out hope that they can convince moderate Republicans to sustain Cooper's veto, others are bracing for a rapid loss of access to the treatments many trans people credit as life-saving.
The Campaign for Southern Equality announced Wednesday that families of trans youth in North Carolina are now eligible to apply for support from the Southern Trans Youth Emergency Project, which helps connect patients with gender-affirming care providers in other states and provides emergency grants for immediate needs.
“Even as we will advocate tirelessly for the NCGA to do the right thing by sustaining Gov. Cooper’s veto, we remain clear-eyed that families should take steps to prepare if anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is enacted," said Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, a former Democratic congressional candidate and the campaign's executive director.
If the bill becomes law, opponents have already vowed to challenge it in court. At least 20 states have now enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for trans minors, and most face lawsuits.
A federal judge struck down Arkansas’ ban as unconstitutional last month, and federal judges have temporarily blocked bans in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Oklahoma has agreed to not enforce its ban while opponents seek a temporary court order blocking it, and a federal judge blocked Florida from enforcing its ban on three children who challenged the law.
Another bill that North Carolina Republicans could enact over Cooper's opposition would require public school teachers to alert parents before they call a student by a different name or pronoun. Trans and nonbinary youth who testified throughout the legislative process said they were terrified for their closeted friends who could be forcibly outed to unaccepting parents. An exception would withhold school records from parents if there is reason to believe it would lead to abuse or neglect.
Promoted by Republicans as giving parents greater authority over their children’s education and health care, the proposal also prohibits instruction about gender identity and sexuality in K-4 classrooms, with an exception for student-initiated questions. Supporters argue such topics should be left to parents to address with their young children.
A spokesperson for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger did not respond Wednesday to emails seeking comment on the vetoed bills. The office of House Speaker Tim Moore declined to comment.
“Parents are the most essential educators for their children and their involvement must be encouraged, but this bill will scare teachers into silence by injecting fear and uncertainty into classrooms," Cooper said. He added that it would hamper the sometimes lifesaving role of educators as confidants when students have nowhere else to turn. Some teachers are already planning to protest the requirements.
The third bill would prohibit transgender girls from playing on middle school, high school and college sports teams designated for girls. Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican and primary sponsor, described it as “not only pro-women — it is pro-safety and pro-fairness.”
But trans girls, who would no longer be able to participate in sports that align with their gender identity, say its exclusionary and targets a tiny number of kids.
Two Democrats and all present Republicans voted for the sports bill when it passed initially, indicating a veto will likely be overridden. At least 22 other states have banned trans athletes from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.