N.C. lawmakers pass gender-care ban

North Carolina Democratic state Rep. Marvin Lucas reacts to the House’s vote to override the governor’s veto of a bill banning gender-affirming health care for minors on Wednesday in Raleigh. (AP/Hannah Schoenbaum)

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Transgender youth in North Carolina lost access Wednesday to gender-affirming treatments after the Republican-led General Assembly overrode the Democratic governor's vetoes of that legislation and other bills touching on gender in sports and LGBTQ+ instruction in the classroom.

GOP supermajorities in the House and Senate enacted -- over Gov. Roy Cooper's veto -- a bill barring medical professionals from providing hormone therapy, puberty-blocking drugs and surgical gender-transition procedures to anyone under 18, with limited medical exceptions.

The policy takes effect immediately, but minors who had begun treatment before Aug. 1 may continue receiving that care if their doctors deem it medically necessary and their parents consent.

North Carolina becomes the 22nd state to enact legislation restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for trans minors. But most of those laws face legal challenges, and local LGBTQ+ right advocates vowed to challenge the ban in court. The Senate voted 27-18 to complete the veto override after the House voted 73-46 earlier.

Republican Sen. Joyce Krawiec, primary sponsor of the bill restricting gender-affirming care, said the state has a responsibility to protect children from receiving potentially irreversible procedures before they are old enough to make their own informed medical decisions.

But Democratic Sen. Lisa Grafstein, North Carolina's only out LGBTQ+ state senator, said the gender-affirming care bill "may be the most heartbreaking bill in a truly heartbreaking session."

Earlier, the Senate and House voted minutes apart to override another Cooper veto of a bill limiting LGBTQ+ instruction in the early grades, also making that law. The measure requires public school teachers in most circumstances to alert parents before they call a student by a different name or pronoun. And the law also bans instruction about gender identity and sexuality in K-4 classrooms, which critics have previously likened to a Florida law opponents call "Don't Say Gay."

Both chambers also voted Wednesday to override Cooper's veto of another bill banning transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams from middle and high school through college. It, too, immediately became law.

A day of divisive deliberations saw anger and emotion boil over at times in the assembly.

Democratic state Rep. John Autry of Mecklenburg County, who has a transgender grandchild, choked up while debating the gender-affirming care bill on the House floor. "Just stop it," he begged his Republican colleagues shortly before they voted to enact the law.

And Cooper blasted the decisions of the Republican-controlled chambers in a statement, calling them "wrong priorities" even before lawmakers had completed all their votes.

"The legislature finally comes back to pass legislation that discriminates," he said, adding it would have several negative impacts for North Carolina.

"Yet they still won't pass a budget when teachers, school bus drivers and Medicaid Expansion for thousands of working people getting kicked off their health plans every week are desperately needed."

Gender-affirming care is considered safe and medically necessary by the leading professional health associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the Endocrine Society.

While trans minors very rarely receive surgical interventions, they are commonly prescribed drugs to delay puberty and sometimes begin taking hormones before they reach adulthood.

The House kicked off the day's rush of votes with a 74-45 vote to override Cooper's veto of a bill that would prohibit transgender girls from playing on girls' middle school, high school and college sports teams. The Senate completed the override soon after.