In the past month, the N.C. General Assembly has introduced three bills seeking to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals, especially those who are transgender and gender-nonconforming, in sports, health care and gender-affirming care.
This follows a recent increase in anti-transgender legislation nationwide, which activists say specifically targets transgender youth.
On March 22, Reps. Mark Brody, (R - Union), Pat McElraft (R - Carteret), Diane Wheatley (R - Cumberland) and Jimmy Dixon (R - Onslow) introduced House Bill 358, titled the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” The bill seeks to segregate women’s sports teams based purely on biological sex, prohibiting transgender individuals from competing on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity.
Two weeks later, on April 5, Sens. Ralph Hise (R - Mitchell), Warren Daniel (R - Burke) and Norman Sanderson (R - Carteret) filed Senate Bills 514 and 515, titled the “Youth Health Protection Act” and “Health Care Heroes Conscience Protection Act,” respectively.
These bills seek to make it illegal for health care providers to provide gender-affirming care to individuals under the age of 21, as well as allowing health care providers to refuse service that “violates his, her, or its conscience," opening the door for discrimination against LGBTQ-identifying individuals on religious or moral grounds.
Though new to the North Carolina legislature, many of these bills draw parallels with, or even originate directly from, bills passed in other states.
From Idaho to North Carolina
During an N.C. House committee hearing last Wednesday for the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” the bill’s primary sponsors were joined virtually by Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R - Idaho Falls) from Idaho, who sponsored the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” bill that passed in the state last spring.
Throughout the hearing, the bill’s primary sponsors took questions from and referenced Ehardt’s experience in Idaho as a potential guide for how execution and enforcement could work in North Carolina.
“I am honored to stand with you and encourage you to please take up this legislation,” Ehardt said during the hearing.
The “Youth Health Protection Act” also draws parallels to the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” recently passed in Arkansas, which banned transgender individuals under the age of 18 from receiving gender-affirming care.
Since passing the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” bill, Idaho has been joined by Mississippi, Alabama and North Dakota in passing laws against the participation of transgender women in women’s sports. As of April 9, the American Civil Liberties Union has tracked a total of 31 states that have introduced “anti-trans bills.”
Shortly after the passing of the bill, the national ACLU and the Idaho state chapter filed a lawsuit against Idaho. This injunction was recognized by a federal judge in August, blocking the law unless the state appealed to a higher court.
“In Idaho, during the hearings, we absolutely heard the ACLU stand up and tell us that they would sue us, and they have followed through on that, but that didn’t scare us,” Ehardt said.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for N.C. Sen. Phil Berger said the Senate would not vote on the “Youth Health Protection Act,” stating they “did not see a pathway to (it) becoming law".
'Coordinated attack' on transgender, gender-nonconforming children
Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, a spokesperson for the ACLU of North Carolina, said the national and state chapters are ready to follow up with legal challenges, should any of the bills pass.
“The ACLU in many states is seeing this coordinated attack of elected adults bullying transgender and gender-nonconforming children and trying to push them out of sight,” Chicurel-Bayard said. “If they do pass in the state legislature, we are considering all of our legal options.”
A major concern among activists is that many of these bills, both in North Carolina and across the country, seem to increasingly target transgender youth. Last week, the NCAA Board of Governors said in a statement that it "firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports."
Given this support for transgender athletes competing at the collegiate level, bills like the “Save Women’s Sports Act” effectively target students in high school, middle school and elementary school, alongside gender-affirming therapy bills that prohibit care for minors.
Much of that tension was evident during last week’s hearing, where several transgender children and their parents came forward in opposition to the bill.
One of those pairs was Katie Jenifer and her daughter, Madi, who spoke on how the bill affects children.
“This blanket bill would make it so Madi and other young trans people aren’t allowed to play with her team. And what a shame that would be,” Jenifer said.
Jenifer is an attorney in Carrboro and said she has every intention of following up with legal challenges should Madi, who is transgender, ever face legal discrimination.
Still, Jenifer said even debating these issues is harmful for transgender children.
“For Madi to hear people debating her very existence, and whether or not she has a right to be who she is, that’s going to leave an imprint for the rest of her life,” she said. “And for what?”
Rebby Kern, education policy director at Equality N.C., said in a March 23 statement that it is important for transgender people to be affirmed and included, especially in their youth. Kern also said these bills continue a history of the state legislature discriminating against the transgender community.
Kern specifically referenced House Bill 2, widely known as the “Bathroom Bill,” which was brought to a vote exactly five years before the “Save Women’s Sports Act” was introduced.
“Five years after attacking transgender North Carolinians through the devastating impact of House Bill 2, NC House Republicans are once again targeting our transgender community," Kern said. "Young people all across this state, regardless of gender identity, deserve the opportunity to experience the benefits of being part of a sporting community."
Salem, a first-year at UNC who identifies as nonbinary and asked to only be identified by their first name, said the recent rise in anti-transgender legislation speaks to the increasing visibility of transgender issues — as well as the lack of understanding about transgender people in those who introduce them.
“Things are starting to change, and I think conservative people really don’t like that, so they’re trying to push back,” Salem said. “Why is this such a big deal to them? Can they not just let these people exist?”
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