RALEIGH, N.C. -- 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.
Cooper denounced the measures 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.
"The open-door policy of allowing children to permanently change their gender is reckless, and rightfully questioned by the medical community," said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth. "Several countries are now restricting gender-reassignment procedures for minors, citing long-term consequences and permanent risks. While Gov. Cooper has turned a blind eye to the protection of children, the legislature is taking the safest approach by limiting access to these life-altering medical procedures until a child comes of age."
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.
"Parents know what is best for their children," Sens. Amy Galey, R-Alamance, and Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, said about the veto of Senate Bill 49, the "Parents' Bill of Rights." "Gov. Cooper continues to mislead the public about the Parents' Bill of Rights so he can drum up manufactured outrage and rake in donations. This bill encourages collaboration, promotes transparency, and keeps classrooms focused on educating, not indoctrinating. The Democrats and Gov. Cooper think the government can co-parent, but Republicans will always stand strong to defend parents and families."
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.
"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."
Boys who self-identify as girls who would no longer be able to participate in sports that align with their gender identity say it is exclusionary and targets a tiny number of children.
"There are inherent biological differences between men and women," said Sen. Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell. "We've already seen the impacts of allowing biological men to play against biological women in North Carolina and across the United States. International athletic governing bodies are beginning to put guardrails in place to ensure fair competition, and we need to do the same. Gov. Cooper has no interest in supporting female athletes, only his far-left donors that want to erase women by refusing to acknowledge biology."
Initial vote counts in the House and Senate indicated a veto will likely be overridden.
The Associated Press contributed.