Republicans Override Cooper’s Vetoes of Anti-LGBTQ Bills

Photograph by Michael McElroy

By Michael McElroy

August 16, 2023

The package of legislation forces teachers to out their students, prohibits gender-affirming care for minors, and prevents trans students from joining female sports teams.

[This article was updated to add more details from the override votes.]

The Republican-controlled General Assembly on Wednesday voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of bills that require teachers to out students to their parents (Senate Bill 49), prohibit gender-affirming care for minors (House Bill 808), and prevent transgender students from joining female sports teams (House Bill 574).

The bills are now law. The votes in both chambers fell mostly on party lines, with Democrats largely unified in opposition to all three bills. 

The House overrode Cooper’s veto of SB 49 by a vote of 72-47; and HB 808 and HB 574 by votes of 74-45.

All three of the Senate overrides were votes of 27-18. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican who has called LBGTQ people “filth,” presided over the Senate for the votes.

In a statement after the votes, Cooper said that the legislation is discriminatory and that lawmakers should be more focused on passing a budget.

 

Unpopular Bills

The bills faced fierce opposition from advocacy groups, who pointed to several studies showing such legislation can increase risks of depression and suicidal thoughts in LGBTQ youth. 

The legislation’s harm will likely be more significant  than any perceived problems the bill’s sponsors claim to be solving.

The sports bill, for example, will only affect a few trans athletes while creating a much harsher environment for all LGBTQ students, advocates say.

James Alverson, a spokesperson for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, told North Carolina Health News in 2021 that of the state’s 686,680 high school-aged children, fewer than 10 trans kids sought to play for a team that corresponded with their gender identity over the previous two years.

In his vetoes last month, Cooper called the bills “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.”

The legislation is not about fairness, the advocacy groups say, but about erasing LGBTQ students from public life. 

The effect is dangerous, health officials say. 

HB 808 prohibits doctors from prescribing puberty-blocking drugs and certain hormones to minors, but this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics reiterated its support for much of the care the bill blocks. The group called for further study of the effectiveness of some treatments, but reaffirmed that they are safe and warned again that laws like these interfere with the doctor/patient relationship.  

Dangerous Bills

Transgender and nonbinary youth have disproportionately high rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, but having access to gender-affirming care can lower the suicide risk by as much as 73%, studies show.

State Sen. Sydney Batch cited these studies in June during a Senate judiciary committee hearing and warned that “children will die” if the legislation passed. As she spoke, Sen. Buck Newton, a Republican, began to laugh.

“We say we care about children. We say that we want to stop the ongoing issues with regards to mental health in our children. We are putting a billion dollars in this state into mental health treatment and yet we are going to need every single dollar or more in order to protect the children this bill will harm,” Batch, who represents Wake County, said.

The long debate over these bills made for a difficult summer for LGBTQ youth, Adam Polaski, a spokesman with the Southern Trans Youth Emergency Project, said in an interview on Tuesday. 

The legislation made them feel “attacked in basically every area of their lives,” he said. But there was another message he also wanted to share: As bleak as things may seem, there are supports and resources available, and most importantly, LGBTQ youth are not alone. 

“Poll after poll shows majority support for equality for all students in North Carolina, and there’s strong support for the freedom to marry, and people to be themselves, and for trans equality,” Polaski said. 

“The main message I want people to instill and internalize is that there is so much more support out there,” he said. “The folks in the state legislature don’t speak for the entire state of North Carolina.”

‘You Can Love Who You Love’

During the floor debate in the Senate over HB 808, Sen. Lisa Grafstein, a Democrat and the only LGBTQ member of the Senate, called out her Republican colleagues who had “cast their lot” with the kind of rhetoric Robinson has used.

“I have no personal animus against anyone in this room,” she said. “You can love who you love, politically or otherwise, and that doesn’t change how I see you.”

She continued: “I believe you are entitled to dignity and respect. I believe you were made in the image of God. I’m not afraid to stand here and say that, but I’m sorry to say that I think some of you are afraid to stand here and say that [about me].”

Sen. Paul Newton, a Republican, stood and interrupted her, asking what any of this had to do with HB 808.

An LBGTQ advocate shouted from the gallery to let Grafstein speak.

Officers came to remove the advocate.

“We’re not filth,” they said as they went out the door.

Another person then shouted that the bill would “kill kids.” They too were removed.

Robinson allowed Grafstein to continue, but she took a moment before starting. Newton swiveled in his chair to stare at her as she spoke.

“It’s a weakness not to be unable to take another person’s perspective,” she said. “It’s a weakness not to be able to look at someone else’s point of view.”

Newton swiveled away from her and stared straight ahead, his hands laced together in front of his chest.

[An earlier version of this article misidentified the North Carolina Republican State Senator who interrupted Sen. Lisa Grafstein as she spoke about HB808. It was Sen. Paul Newton, not Sen. Buck Newton.]

Author

  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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