North Carolina Senate Republicans passed Senate Bill 49 — the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” — which expands parental access to information about their children’s lives at school Feb. 7.
The legislation was passed along party lines, with 29 Republican voting for and 18 Democrat voting against. The legislation contains provisions included in a similar bill, House Bill 755, proposed last May that was stalled because of a potential veto from Gov. Roy Cooper.
The “Parents’ Bill of Rights” outlines expanded rights for North Carolina parents to be notified if their child changes pronouns at school, creates policies for parents to review and challenge school material and prohibits instruction on “gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality” for students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
It was cosponsored by State Sen. Amy Galey, a Republican who represents District 25, which covers Alamance and Randolph Counties.
Luis Garay, director of the Gender & LGBTQIA Center at Elon, said this bill is harmful and causes fear for LGBTQIA youth. Garay said they were unsurprised when they heard about the bill’s passage in the Senate.
“I really thought, ‘Not again,’” Garay said. “This is labeled as ‘the Parents’ Bill of Rights.’ But these bills often are introduced and serve a very specific subset of parents.”
Garay said the bill does not serve parents and allies of LGBTQIA youth.
“Part of what this bill seemingly says is there has to be a limit of education around gender identity and sexual orientation,” Garay said. “But if you're an LGBTQIA youth who is out at home and now you're in the classroom, that just creates a discrepancy.”
Though House Bill 755, which contains many of the same provisions outlined in Senate Bill 49, was shelved in the past and Gov. Cooper will likely veto this bill, Garay said the passage of a bill like this is always in the forefront of their mind.
“It still introduces fear, and can introduce fear and the possibility that something like this could be passed,” Garay said.
They added that this bill could deteriorate students’ relationships with their educators.
“This is saying something that is private now has to get disclosed,” Garay said. “We say you can trust them, but not on this.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 46.8% of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in 2019, while the rate for heterosexual students was much lower at 14.5%.
Garay said this bill will be harmful to LGBTQIA students’ mental health, who have few places where they can fully express themselves.
“You have to constantly monitor and be aware of what you can't say in one space but you can say in another,” Garay said. “There are only so many spaces in an environment where queer and trans people — let alone queer and trans youth — can be safe.”
Ryan Lockwood, president of the College Republicans at Elon University, said he was unsurprised by the passage of Bill 49 and generally supports it, which he said seems to be modeled after Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“Everybody should have a right to know what's going on with their kids’ education,” Lockwood said.
He said the bill has been somewhat controversial, but he does not think it should be.
“Everybody should agree that the kind of transparency between schools and public education to parents should be a good thing,” Lockwood said.
He added that the majority of Republicans would be in favor of this bill.
“When public schools are not providing transparency between public education, it just creates a divide between the people in the government,” Lockwood said. “That's something that the Republican Party really takes to heart.”
Lockwood, who grew up in Charlotte, said he did not have any sex education until he was in sixth grade.
He said topics such as sexuality and gender identity should be taught in grade school, but only to adolescent students.
“I generally supported the bill, but I do think that health education should be improved,” Lockwood said. “It’s not necessarily great in the state, but you do have to take into consideration the child’s age and development.”
Lockwood said that Galey well-represents her constituents in Alamance County, and both the North Carolina House and Senate have Republican majorities.
However, Garay said Galey does not adequately represent Alamance County.
“There have been people who have spoken out against the bill last year and this year,” Garay said. “If part of your constituency at the local and state level are saying, ‘This is harmful, we do not support this,’ and you still move forward, my question is, who are you really there to serve?”
Galey did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Because the legislation was passed in the Senate, it has been sent to the North Carolina House for a vote. If it passes, it could get vetoed by Gov. Cooper.
House and Senate Democrats, led by Rep. Vernetta Alston, have also introduced alternative legislation, called the “Parents and Students’ Bill of Rights” that addresses school safety and the mental health of students. If Senate Bill 49 does not pass, Democrats will try to pass this bill instead.