Veto Overrides: NC Legislature Protects Gender-Confused Minors, Parental Rights, and Women’s Sports
The North Carolina legislature held a veto override bonanza Wednesday, enacting at least five bills over the objections of Governor Roy Cooper (D). Among these were bills to protect minors from the harmful effects of irreversible gender reassignment procedures, guarantee parental rights in education, and clarify that women’s sports are for women.
HB 808 makes it “unlawful for a medical professional to perform a surgical gender transition procedure on a minor or to prescribe, provide, or dispense puberty-blocking drugs or cross-sex hormones to a minor,” with an exception for a “course of treatment” begun before August 1. It enforces this prohibition through a private cause of action and license revocation. The act also implements conscience protections for medical providers who object to performing gender reassignment procedures, and it prevents the use of state funds for gender reassignment procedures on a minor.
“Recognizing the serious and the potentially permanent effects of the procedures that this bill addresses, it simply says they need to wait until they’re 18 to make that kind of a decision,” said N.C. State Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R).
“Statistically, we have seen from studies in Europe high numbers of people who regret having undergone gender-affirming care as minors and many go through the detransition process,” said State Rep. Ken Fontenot (R), a sponsor of the bill. “Sadly, even after people detransition, they cannot have children, and this is too serious and irreversible of a decision for minors to make before their brain is fully developed.”
The veto override for HB 808 passed the House 74-45 (two votes to spare) and the Senate 27-18 (zero votes to spare). A veto override in North Carolina requires a three-fifths majority. Notably, two House Democrats, State Rep. Michael Wray and Garland Pierce, voted against the bill’s original passage in June but voted for the veto override — and against the governor from their own party.
SB 49 establishes a “parent’s bill of rights” and requires “public school units and all public school unit personnel” to “fully support and cooperate in implementing a well-planned, inclusive, and comprehensive program to assist parents and families in effectively participating in their child’s education.” The bill then spells out all the information schools must provide to parents, including both academic information and notifications about their child’s physical and mental health, which would include “any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student.” It requires “age-appropriate instruction” for K-4th grade curriculum, which excludes “instruction on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality.”
“Democrats want to keep North Carolina’s education system shielded from parental accountability,” protested State Sen. Amy Galey (R). “The Parents’ Bill of Rights fights back against those efforts. It increases accessibility to what’s being taught in our schools, notifies parents of the well-being of their children, and keeps school curriculum focused on core subjects.”
The veto override for SB 49 passed the House 72-47 and the Senate 27-18, the slimmest possible margin.
HB 574 requires “athletic teams designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex,” and it recognizes sex “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”
“Girls should not have to worry about having to compete against biological males in sports,” said State Rep. Jennifer Balkcom (R), who sponsored the bill, “and this legislation will protect female athletes from such unfair and unsafe competition.”
The veto override for HB 574 passed the House 74-45 and the Senate 27-18, earning the votes of two House Democrats, Wray and Pierce. Pierce flipped from voting against the bill in June to voting for it in August.
North Carolina legislators have achieved an unexpectedly conservative legislative record in 2023. When the session began, Republicans held both chambers, but they lacked a veto-proof majority in the House and just barely had one in the Senate. Then, in April, Charlotte-area State Rep. Tricia Cotham switched to the Republican Party (Cotham felt chased out of the Democratic Party based on her support for school choice), which helped Republicans meet the minimum threshold for a veto override in the House as well.
The North Carolina legislative majority has translated their slim veto-override margin into results. In May, the North Carolina Republicans passed a significant test of their coalition by enacting legislation protecting the unborn after 12 weeks’ gestation (up from 20 weeks). They successfully overrode the governor’s veto, even after the governor personally lobbied four moderate representatives he hoped to flip. That show of unity so alarmed Cooper that he officially declared a state of emergency because he feared a universal school choice bill working its way through the state House might also pass. On Wednesday, the legislature did override Cooper’s veto of several more bills, including those mentioned above.
Supporters and opponents both rallied outside the North Carolina capitol before the override votes, with counter protestors at both press conferences. At the N.C. Values Coalition press conference, former high school volleyball player Payton McNabb called Cooper’s veto of the women’s sports bill “a slap in the face to every female in the state.” McNabb sustained a concussion and a neck injury after a biological male on an opposing team spiked a ball directly in her face. Over a year later, she still suffers from blurry vision and partial paralysis. “I don’t want my sister, my cousins, and any other biological female to ever go through what I went through,” she said.
Protestors tried to drown out the press conference with chants, music played over a loudspeaker, and shouts such as, “You’re killing people with your hateful legislation, bigot.”
Pro-trans protestors in the Senate gallery also tried to disrupt debate and were escorted out by capitol police.
Governor Cooper responded briefly to the veto overrides, blaming lawmakers for prioritizing “legislation that discriminates” over passing a budget (legislators say they will agree on a budget in September or October). Cooper needs the legislature to pass a budget to achieve his own policy priorities, including Medicaid expansion and steering money to teachers unions.
Pro-trans advocacy groups also slammed the bills. Campaign for Southern Equality’s Allison Scott, called HB 808 “an all-out attack on queer and transgender youth in North Carolina.” The Human Rights Campaign, which recently declared a state of emergency over Florida’s pro-biology bills, struck a similar note: “Legislators are sending a clear message that North Carolina is not a safe place for us.”
Meanwhile, pro-family advocates had just the opposite reaction. “Bodies play sports, not identities, and this bill ensures North Carolina girls and women won’t be benched in their own sports and can train confidently knowing they have a safe and level playing field,” said N.C. Values Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald regarding HB 574. With regard to SB 49, she added, “Parents already have the fundamental right to oversee the education and upbringing of their own children, but public schools have slowly been usurping those rights by hiding information and slipping radical ideologies into their lessons.”
North Carolina Family Policy Council President John Rustin also weighed in. “NC Family is extremely grateful for all the lawmakers and citizens who championed the passage of these extremely important bills that are designed to protect the health and safety of children and families in North Carolina,” he told The Washington Stand. “The fact that veto override votes were necessary to enact these commonsense laws is tragic, but we praise God for providing the ultimate victory!”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.