RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Previously stalled legislation that would limit LGBTQ+ instruction in North Carolina public schools and require teachers to out transgender kids to their parents gained momentum Wednesday after months of inaction as state legislators race to push policies across the finish line before the session ends.
North Carolina’s House education committee advanced the bill requiring all public school teachers in most circumstances to alert parents before they call a student by a different name or pronoun. It would also prohibit instruction about gender identity and sexuality in K-4 classrooms, which critics have likened to the Florida law that opponents call “ Don’t Say Gay.”
When the GOP-controlled Senate passed the bill in February, House Republicans were one seat shy of a supermajority and would have needed some Democratic support for the bill to become law. But during the four months that it idled in the House, Mecklenburg County Rep. Tricia Cotham switched parties from Democrat to Republican, giving the GOP veto-proof margins and a clear path to advance more conservative policies. Republicans filed six bills aimed at trans youth the following day.
The proposal must clear one more committee before it heads to the House floor for a vote. Some Republicans expressed support Wednesday for amending it in the future to also apply to private and charter schools or to extend the curriculum restriction through fifth grade. House Speaker Tim Moore has said he’s confident the bill will pass his chamber this session.
Although Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has denounced it as “wrong” and harmful, he now has little power to block it.
While bill sponsors, such as Republican Sen. Amy Galey of Alamance County, say it’s needed to keep parents informed about what their children are being taught in school, LGBTQ+ youth and their supporters say it would destroy the trust between teachers and students, making schools unsafe spaces for them to explore their identities at their own pace.
“Children don’t have rights versus their parents,” Galey said. “Parents have the right to educate and give the world training and to provide for the physical safety of children unless the parent is abusive.”
For transgender kids, like 17-year-old Griffin Rogers of Raleigh, teachers often serve as crucial confidants before they feel ready to talk to parents or peers about their gender identity.
Rogers said he spends a lot of time worrying about what will happen to his closeted trans friends with unsupportive families if this bill — and others moving through the legislature that pertain to LGBTQ+ youth — pass in the coming days. Several of his friends use different names or pronouns at school than they do at home and are “terrified” that teachers could soon be required to inform their parents, he said.
“I have lots of friends who know that if they get outed or their parents find out that they’re trans, they’ll get beat or they’ll get kicked out — my closest friends,” Rogers said. “It just makes you feel so trapped to not be able to talk about that stuff.”
Some North Carolina teachers are already planning to protest the new restrictions.
Art teacher Gretchen Phillips, faculty sponsor for the Gay–Straight Alliance at Orange High School in Hillsborough, has assured her students that she will not compromise their safety by outing them without consent. She anticipates many teachers in the state will refuse to comply or find loopholes in the legislation.
An exception in the bill would prevent parents from accessing school records if there is reason to believe it would lead to abuse or neglect. But Phillips said the very idea of outing an LGBTQ+ child is “going to lead to abuse,” regardless of whether the school can anticipate it. One of her own students was kicked out of their home earlier this year because their parents did not approve of their gender identity, she said.
“By trying to tie my hands on that, it means that I won’t be able to have a voice for the kids who need an adult to speak up for them the loudest,” Phillips said. “My job is to be there for them as they’re figuring out who they are, and if I can’t be that for them and support them as they are, then I can’t even begin to teach them.”
She worries the “forced outing” provision could lead more parents to send their children to conversion therapy, a discredited practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. North Carolina does not ban the practice outright but prohibits using taxpayer dollars to perform it on minors.
For Rogers and other trans students, being able to express their identities and find acceptance at school “gives us a chance to feel like we’re human,” he said, “which, especially living in the South, we don’t really get that opportunity a lot of the time.”
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 places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Hannah Schoenbaum, The Associated Press