Anti-transgender legislation rings out on commemoration day

RALEIGH, NC (AP) — Persistent efforts by the North Carolina legislature to restrict the lives of transgender people cast a shadow over Callum Bradford growing up in Chapel Hill and guiding him on his journey of self-discovery, coming out and gaining the gender-affirming health followed nursing the 16-year-old credits as a lifesaver.

With Republicans winning most of the state elections this month, Bradford and other trans and gender-nonconforming residents are bracing themselves for the possibility of new or reinstated legislation targeting LGBTQ people, and trans people in particular, being vetoed by the Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper against Republicans could survive dispute enough supporters.

“Before I came out, I was thinking about these laws and I was like, ‘I know I’m a man, but do I really want to deal with this?'” Bradford said. “Can’t I just go back to a time when I was innocent and untouched by hate?”

State House victories for Republicans across the country in this month’s midterm elections resonate with trans people as they mark Sunday’s Transgender Remembrance Day, an international celebration honoring victims of transgender violence and raising awareness of the threats transgender people face.

The reverberations are particularly intense in North Carolina, which provided the blueprint for the current wave of nationwide anti-trans legislation when lawmakers passed legislation in 2016 to limit transgender access to public restrooms and prevent municipalities from passing new anti-discrimination ordinances to enact.

The resulting backlash hit North Carolina’s economy as sports tournaments, corporations and conventions severed ties and cost the state hundreds of millions in revenue before the policy was eventually reversed in 2017 and settled in federal court in 2019.

For Bradford, who had yet to come out, it was the first of many bills that eroded his confidence and exposed him to the harsh realities of transgender youth, which have been the top policy targets this year as the United States has a record number of antis -Trans bills saw more than 145 introduced in 34 states, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Republicans won a supermajority in the North Carolina Senate and lost a seat to a supermajority in the House of Representatives. The result narrowly retains Cooper’s veto power if the Democrats, as a united front, override the vote.

But GOP House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters Nov. 9 that he considers House Republicans “a ruling supermajority” because some moderate Democrats have voted with them in the past.

While Moore said the party has yet to solidify its priorities for the long session beginning in January, Senate Chairman Phil Berger is already considering a “Bill of Rights for Parents” that passed the Senate this year, but no Senate vote received House before the session ended.

Touted by GOP senators as a toolkit to help parents monitor their children’s education and health care, the bill included provisions to ban teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 curricula and make schools compulsory to warn parents about a name change or Pronoun used for their child. Cooper condemned the measure, comparing it to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

“As for the Parental Bill of Rights, parents have made it clear that they are not happy with some things that are going on in our public schools,” Berger said. “A number of members supported this bill when it passed the Senate last year, coming back. I suspect there will be good support to move forward with that again.”

Bethany Corrigan, chief executive of Transcend Charlotte, a service provider for mixed-sex adults in Mecklenburg County, said the mandatory reporting aspect of such bills constitutes a “forced outing” that could put LGBTQ youth at greater risk of housing instability, mental health crises and violence .

But Corrigan cautioned that it’s not just explicit anti-LGBTQ laws that could affect transgender rights in North Carolina. They said further abortion restrictions, which GOP leaders have already expressed interest in introducing next year, could later be used to restrict access to gender-affirming health care.

“The threat to people’s physical autonomy in relation to reproductive health care — where does it end?” Corrigan said, noting that abortion policies affect trans and cisgender people equally.

Bradford, who has been taking testosterone for a year and a half, said he fears his access to treatment may be limited. His father began looking for housing in Virginia before the midterms to give his son a backup plan. The teenager is now weighing whether North Carolina will be a safe place to go to college.

Among the motions that lawmakers introduced but didn’t pass in the last session included a bill that would limit medical treatment for transgender people under the age of 21 and another that would limit the ability of transgender women and girls to participate in school sports. Mitchell County Republican Senator Ralph Hise, sponsor of the former, did not respond to messages asking if he planned to reintroduce the law.

Cooper spokeswoman Mary Scott Winstead said the governor will continue to advocate for transgender North Carolinians, who too often face “inexcusable and unacceptable violence.”

In neighboring Tennessee, the GOP-controlled legislature announced after Election Day that its first priority would be to ban medical providers from altering a child’s hormones or performing surgeries that would allow them to identify as one of their biological sex represent different genders.

The guidelines from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health state that adolescents with gender dysphoria can start taking hormones – estrogen or testosterone – at the age of 14. Starting this year, the recommended minimum age for some surgeries, including breast removal for transgender boys, was lowered to age 15 and genital surgeries such as hysterectomy or testicle removal down to age 17.

Katherine Turk, a historian of women, gender and sexuality at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the recent surge in anti-trans legislation follows a historical pattern of pushback after marginalized groups gained visibility and political momentum.

“More visibility often comes with increased vulnerability,” Corrigan said. “Several states that have introduced these harmful laws have also experienced increased rates of deadly violence against trans people, particularly black trans women.”

At least 32 trans people and gender non-conforming people have been killed in the United States this year, including Sasha Mason, a 45-year-old trans woman who was killed in Zebulon, North Carolina, according to a new Human Rights Campaign report.

In the wake of a deadly mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado the night before, Transgender Memorial Day events have been planned around the world.

Kori Hennessey, director of education and programs for the Raleigh LGBT Center, had previously organized a Sunday night vigil outside the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh.

“With every attack on our community, physical attacks but also legislative ones, our supporters become more outspoken,” said Hennessey, who is non-binary. “We hope it happens again. In the meantime, we will stand on the governor’s doorstep and remind him that we are here and worth fighting for.”

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Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.

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