The North Carolina legislature has overridden the veto of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and passed multiple laws specifically targeting trans youth on issues including gender-affirming care, sports, and education. It’s the latest of several states with GOP-led legislatures to approve such bills, and it highlights how Republicans are continuing to make these policies central to their platform ahead of 2024.
“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, an organization dedicated to protecting LGBTQ rights in the state, said in a statement.
As North Carolina — a battleground state that has leaned more conservative in recent years — becomes the most recent state to institute bans focused on minors and trans rights, it’s clear Republicans intend to continue using this issue in order to rally their base, particularly Evangelical voters, prior to next year’s presidential election. That these laws went into effect in a state with a Democratic governor also signals the power the GOP has been able to attain in state legislatures when they get a supermajority.
What’s in North Carolina’s three anti-trans rights bills
In North Carolina, the Republican-majority House and Senate originally passed three bills that curbed trans rights earlier this summer, only to see Cooper veto them. Because the GOP has a supermajority in both chambers, however, they were able to get the three-fifths support needed in both to overrule Cooper’s veto.
Here’s what’s in the three bills:
- A ban on doctors providing gender-affirming care for minors: North Carolina becomes the 22nd state to approve this type of bill, which bars providers from offering gender-affirming care including hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries.
- A ban on trans girls and women in women’s sports: The legislation bars trans girls and women from competing on teams that do not match the gender they were assigned at birth, effectively barring them from girls’ and women’s teams in middle school, high school, and college.
- A ban on K-4 teachers discussing gender identity and sexual orientation: As part of a Parents’ Bill of Rights, one provision curbs teachers’ abilities to tackle these subjects in certain grades and also requires them to obtain parental approval in order to address a child by different pronouns.
North Carolina joins a growing list of states passing anti-trans laws
As Vox’s Nicole Narea and Fabiola Cineas have explained, the North Carolina legislature’s actions echo a trend that has taken place in many states with Republican legislatures. According to a Washington Post analysis, there have been at least 400 anti-trans bills introduced at the state level since the start of this year, a figure that surpasses that of the last four years combined. This effort has been led by conservative states like Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, but almost every state across the country has seen GOP lawmakers propose at least one bill.
Several of these laws center on restricting gender-affirming care for minors, even though major medical organizations including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have deemed such treatments “medically necessary care.” A number of other laws have also focused on limiting trans people’s ability to compete in sports and to use bathrooms consistent with their gender. And Florida, Alabama, and Arkansas are among the states that have passed bills that bar teachers from talking about sexual orientation in schools, and of using a child’s preferred pronouns without consulting parents.
A number of these laws are being challenged in court for being discriminatory and unconstitutional, and several have temporarily been blocked, though it’s not yet clear what the final ruling could be as they make their way to the Supreme Court.
Collectively, these bills serve to deprive trans youth of vital health care while simultaneously boosting hate toward trans people, who already face a disproportionate amount of violence. As Narea and Cineas previously explained, such legislation reinforces ugly stereotypes and seeks to perpetuate the false idea that trans people are dangerous to children and women. By elevating these messages, such laws contribute to harassment directed at trans people, who are four times more likely to be the subject of violent crime compared to cisgender people, according to a UCLA study.
“Thanks to emerging research, we know that even just an awareness of these types of bans and other anti-trans legislation can severely damage transgender people’s mental health,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Vox in a statement.
Republicans across the country have made anti-trans laws a key part of their platform going into 2024
In addition to prioritizing them in state legislatures, Republican candidates are also making anti-trans laws a key part of the case they’re making in the 2024 elections. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, has made his hardline anti-LGBTQ stances a key aspect of his campaign that, he has argued, makes him even more conservative than former President Donald Trump. And the GOP has continued to push on this issue even in the face of high public support for trans rights: A 2022 Pew study found that most Americans support protecting trans people from discrimination, though there are more divides on specific policies such as allowing people to compete on different sports teams.
By pushing bills that target trans people, Republicans run the risk of promoting a swath of unpopular legislation that could garner pushback from moderate swing voters.
“Since the 1970s, the two issues dominating the Religious Right have been opposing abortion and same-sex rights,” Vanderbilt University anthropologist Sophie Bjork-James told Vox. “We should see the increased focus on opposing trans rights as stemming also from the success of this movement in overturning Roe v. Wade, which has allowed this movement to focus more on sexuality.”