The North Carolina General Assembly recently passed several bills targeting transgender youth despite Governor Cooper's veto. Here's everything you need to know.

The rights of transgender people — especially young people — to exist in public spaces, participate in life-affirming activities, and receive critical gender-affirming health care are under attack in North Carolina. The General Assembly recently voted to override Governor Cooper’s veto on three anti-transgender bills. We want to clarify what each of these bills does and does not do. 

House Bill 574 

Having the opportunity to participate in sports results in positive outcomes for students—better grades, greater homework completion, higher educational and occupational aspirations, and improved self-esteem. HB 574 prohibits trans women and girls from participating on middle school, high school, and even college sports teams that align with their gender identity. Middle and high school sports teams are required to be designated by “biological sex,” which is defined as based solely on the student’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth. Trans men and boys will still be able to participate on men’s teams. 

HB 574 also extends the biological sex requirements to higher education, including the UNC system, community colleges, and private universities in North Carolina. This means that trans women will have a harder time accessing college sports, and all of the academic and professional benefits that are available to college athletes.

Trans students participate in sports for the same reasons other young people do: to challenge themselves, improve fitness, and be part of a team. Efforts to ban trans students from participating in sports that align with their gender identity jeopardize their mental health, physical well-being and ability to access educational opportunities comparable to their peers.

House Bill 808

Gender affirming healthcare is live-saving for trans youth. Transgender youth who are affirmed in their gender through supportive families and medical providers have health outcomes comparable to their non-transgender peers. By contrast, when denied treatment and affirmation, transgender youth experience high rates of suicidality and negative health outcomes. Trans youth deserve to access the health care they need to lead full, healthy lives.  

Under HB 808, medical professionals cannot perform gender-affirming surgery on minors or prescribe puberty blockers or hormone therapy to minors. However, a medical professional can continue to prescribe puberty blockers or hormone therapy medications to a minor patient who has already under a course of treatment as of August 1, 2023, as long as the parents consent. The ban on gender-affirming surgery does not apply to surgery on intersex minors.

Additionally, medical professionals and medical institutions (like hospitals) cannot be penalized for refusing to provide gender-affirming surgery, hormone therapy, or puberty blockers. State funds cannot be used for surgical gender procedures or to provide puberty blockers or hormone therapy to a minor. At least for now, this policy does not apply to the State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees. 

This bill relies on misinformation about transgender health care and serves only to stir up transphobic rhetoric. Many of the legislators pushing this bill emphasized the need to protect children from permanently altering their bodies. Puberty blockers, which will now be banned for minors, do not cause permanent changes and provide minors more time to make important medical decisions without forcing them to undergo potentially uncomfortable and even damaging hormonal changes in adolescence. While hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery can cause permanent changes, medical providers agree that the benefits outweigh the risks. Rates of regret among patients who have received gender-affirming surgery are very low, while studies have shown that receiving gender-affirming care has improved mental health outcomes and reduced the risk of suicide for transgender patients.

The American Medical Association wrote a letter in 2021 to the National Governors Association urging them not to oppose state legislation that restricts access to gender-affirming care: “We believe it is inappropriate and harmful for any state to legislatively dictate that certain transition-related services are never appropriate and limit the range of options physicians and families may consider when making decisions for pediatric patients.”

Senate Bill 49 

Public schools are required to inform parents prior to changing a student’s name or pronouns used in school records or by school personnel. Parents can also review records of materials their child has borrowed from a school library. 

Building trusted relationships with teachers is a foundational part of a child’s education. Requiring school employees to categorically out students who question their gender identity is a serious violation of student privacy. While many parents are supportive, this bill puts students at risk who fear mistreatment from disapproving parents. It also drives young people away from trusted adults with whom they may feel more comfortable discussing sensitive subjects.

This bill also bans instruction on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality from kindergarten to fourth grade. This ban is meant to further stigmatize LGBTQ identities and push queer and trans people further into the margins. 

What’s next?

These bills demonstrate a coordinated campaign to ostracize trans youth and push them out of public life, but they won’t stop youth from being trans. 

We need to ensure that trans youth across the country feel loved and supported as we combat these awful attacks on their safety and civil liberties. Here’s where you can make a difference in North Carolina.

  1. Contact your state representatives, and tell them that you believe transgender people have a right to live in safety, to thrive, and to be treated with dignity. As North Carolinians, we have a responsibility to make our state a safe and inclusive place for transgender people. Our legislators have pushed a regressive and dangerous agenda targeting already marginalized groups, but we do not have to let them get away with it. You can find and contact your representatives here.
  2. Support community organizations like Equality NC, the Campaign for Southern Equality, and your local LGBTQ center. You can also donate to mutual aid funds that provide financial assistance to trans people in need. LGBTQ people are significantly more likely to be living in poverty than straight and cisgender people, with more than one in five LGBTQ adults living in poverty. Financial support can go a long way for those who are struggling. 
  3. Buy banned books by LGBTQ authors and request them in your local library. Many libraries in North Carolina have faced an influx in complaints from parents and community members about books that they want removed from the shelves, many of them by LGBTQ authors or about LGBTQ narratives. Seeing themselves represented in literature can make a huge difference in young peoples’ development. They deserve to be able to access inclusive stories at their local library. Banned Books Week is October 1-7 and we’ll have more details on what to expect from us soon. 
  4. Educate yourself on anti-LGBTQ discrimination and allyship. Talk to your friends and loved ones about gender and sexuality. Normalize trans people taking up space in public life. Small steps can make a massive difference in creating social change.