"Devastating": NC Republicans override Democratic veto to ban gender-affirming care for youth

The GOP supermajority, North Carolina activists say, is "hellbent on stripping all of us of our bodily autonomy"

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published August 17, 2023 1:28PM (EDT)

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

North Carolina's Republican-led General Assembly on Wednesday overrode the Democratic governor's vetoes of legislation banning gender-affirming medical treatment for minors and other bills related to sports and LGBTQ+ instruction, marking a huge loss of access for transgender youth in the state.

According to The Associated Press, the bill — enacted by GOP supermajorities in the House and Senate — prohibits medical professionals from providing hormone therapy, puberty-blocking drugs and gender-affirmation surgeries to anyone under the age of 18, barring some exceptions. The law went into effect immediately, allowing only minors who had started treatment before Aug.1 to continue receiving care if their doctors determine its medically necessary and their parents give consent.

The move makes North Carolina the 22nd state in the nation to establish legislation banning or restricting gender-affirming medical care for transgender and non-binary minors. Most of those states, however, face legal challenges to the laws, and local LGBTQ+ rights advocates have declared their desire to take the ban to court.

"Our heart breaks for the many people, particularly trans youth and their families, whose lives will be harmed by these cruel laws. And we're enraged by the hostile disregard to our communities displayed by the Legislature. Trans kids deserve better," Equality NC, a North Carolina foundation dedicated to LGBTQ+ writes wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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"The General Assembly passed these bills in the face of vociferous and highly motivated opposition, including thousands of letters, phone calls, testimonies, and protests. You all showed up, making your voice heard loud and clear – and we're so profoundly grateful," the organization continued.

"This is part of a broader, nationwide attack on LGBTQ+ rights — with a heavy target on trans children — by politicians who are hellbent on stripping all of us of our bodily autonomy."

"We know that our youth in NC are safer because there are so many motivated advocates and allies in our communities. And we're infuriated by the disrespect and disregard shown for the people of North Carolina by this body in passing these bills over such committed opposition," Equality NC added.

The North Carolina Senate voted 27-18 to complete the override after the House's 74-45 vote. Two Democrats joined the present Republicans in supporting the override.

The bill's primary sponsor, Republican Sen. Joyce Krawiec, argued that the state is responsible for protecting children from getting potentially irreversible procedures before they're old enough to make an informed medical decision.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Endocrine Society and the American Medical Association all consider gender-affirming care safe and medically necessary. Trans minors also rarely receive surgical procedures; more commonly, they are prescribed drugs to delay puberty or, in some cases, started on hormones before reaching adulthood.

Democratic Sen. Lisa Grafstein, who is also the state's only opening LGBTQ+ senator, decried what "may be the most heartbreaking bill in a truly heartbreaking session."

Earlier in the session, the Senate and House voted to override another veto from Gov. Roy Cooper of a bill restricting LGBTQ+ classroom instruction in early grades. That law now compels public school teachers to alert parents before they begin calling a student by a different name or pronoun in most circumstances. It also prohibits instruction on gender identity and sexuality from kindergarten up to 4th grade, a provision that critics have compared to Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law.

Nathaniel Dibble, a 19-year-old who protested outside of the General Assembly, and other LGBTQ+ youth present told AP that the bill would put transgender students at risk in school as teachers could out them to unsupportive parents.

Sen. Amy Galey, the bill's sponsor, argued that parents have the right to know the specifics about their children's education. "Parents need to be brought into the conversation from the very beginning, not treated with suspicion or as the source of that anguish," she said.

Both chambers of the General Assembly also voted to smack down Cooper's veto of another bill that banned transgender girls from participating in girls' sports teams from middle school through to college. The provision also went into effect immediately.

Democratic Rep. John Autry, who has a trans grandchild, was almost brought to tears while debating the gender-affirming care bill on the House floor. 

"Just stop it," he pleaded of his Republican colleagues ahead of their vote.

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Cooper also slammed the Republican-led chambers for their "wrong priorities" even before they had completed the vote. He echoed these sentiments in a broader statement about the session shared to X.

"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 wrote in the statement, before lamenting the Legislature's failure to pass a budget.

Parents of trans and nonbinary children said before the vote that they have been weighing whether to move their families out of the state so their children can freely access gender-affirming health care.

"I have felt like I had a lump in my throat for months," Orange County resident Elizabeth Waugh, whose child did not begin treatment before Aug. 1 and would need to travel out-of-state if they were to begin hormones, told AP. "Just talking to other families who are dealing with this, I mean, the pain that they are feeling, the suffering, the fear for their children — it's devastating."

Democratic Rep. Marcia Morey, who is also a former Olympic swimmer, emphasized the emotional effects the law could have on young athletes.

"This bill affects 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds who are just starting to learn about athletics, about competition, about sportsmanship," she said. "To some of these kids, it could be their lifeline to self-confidence."

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic North Carolina, which lobbies and advocates for access to basic health care including gender-affirming care in the state, called all three of the overrides "a devastating attack on LGBTQ+ rights" in a post to X.

"This is part of a broader, nationwide attack on LGBTQ+ rights — with a heavy target on trans children — by politicians who are hellbent on stripping all of us of our bodily autonomy," the organization added.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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