North Carolina restricts transgender college athletes in veto override

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Dive Brief:

  • North Carolina’s Legislature on Wednesday overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a law limiting transgender athletes’ participation in higher education and K-12 sports.
  • The law prohibits transgender women and girls from competing on academic sports teams that align with their gender identity. The legislation does not address transgender men’s eligibility for men’s teams.
  • Cooper, a Democrat, had shot down the bill last month. But Republican lawmakers, who hold veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers, revived it with votes largely along party lines.

Dive Insight:

Conservative state governments have increasingly introduced and enacted legislation designed to block the rights of transgender people. Nearly all states have proposed anti-trans bills in 2023, dozens of which have been signed into law, according to a group tracking such proposals.

Now, all North Carolina colleges — public and private — must determine a student’s eligibility for athletic participation “based solely on the student’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth,” according to the state’s new law.

Other Republican-controlled states, such as Texas and Alabama, have pushed through similar legislation.

Like those two, North Carolina now allows students to sue colleges and athletics associations over violations of the law. Lawmakers also overrode other proposals concerning gender-affirming care and K-12 education.  

Tim Moore, the state’s house speaker, helped lead the veto overrides and called them “huge wins for North Carolina women, parents, and families.”

“While Governor Cooper has tried to stand between parents and their kids, today the NC House will continue to affirm parent’s rights, protect female athletes, and advocate for the health and safety of our children,” Moore said in a statement Wednesday.

Moore and the House Republicans gained a veto-proof majority when State Rep. Tricia Cotham switched her party affiliation in April after running as a Democrat.

Meanwhile, Cooper castigated the lawmakers’ vetoes.

“These are the wrong priorities, especially when they should be working nights and weekends if necessary to get a budget passed by the end of the month,” he said in a statement after the overrides. 

North Carolina’s two-year spending plan was supposed to take effect July 1, but lawmakers are still working through issues. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina called the veto overrides shameful and discriminatory, sentiments echoed by the Human Rights Campaign. 

North Carolina, and other states like it, could run up against the U.S. Education Department’s upcoming Title IX regulatory proposals. Title IX bans sex-based discrimination at federally funded schools. 

The agency’s proposed rules would prohibit broad bans against transgender athletes playing on teams matching their gender identities. But exemptions would allow colleges to limit their participation in athletics under certain circumstances, such as to prevent sports injuries. 

Release of final Title IX regulations drafts had been expected in May, but were since delayed until October.

This is not the first time North Carolina has gained attention for anti-trans legislation.

In 2016, the state passed a bill banning transgender people from using the restrooms, showers and changing areas that correspond with their gender identities in state-run buildings. The law, commonly known as the “bathroom bill,” led to widespread boycotts of the state and had been expected to cost more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years. 

North Carolina repealed the law in 2017.


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