North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a trio of bills targeting the state’s LGBTQ+ communities; the bills would have restricted transgender students from participating in school sports, gender affirming healthcare for minors and classroom instruction surrounding gender identity and sexuality. Despite Cooper’s vetoes on July 5, these bills could still pass if they are overturned by the General Assembly.
Elon’s reputation of vibrant LGBTQ+ communities, affirming resources and accepting culture are a beacon of hope for many LGBTQ+ students attending or looking to attend the university, according to senior Oliver McGowan. Yet, the looming possibility of these bills has brought a wave of concern to Elon’s LGBTQ+ communities.
Elon University has been consistently ranked among the “best of the best” LGBTQ+ friendly colleges and universities in the U.S. since 2014 by the Campus Pride Index, and is the one of only two schools in North Carolina with a five out of five star rating on the index — the other being Guilford College.
McGowan is a student worker at Elon’s Gender and LGBTQIA Center and said he is worried that even if Gov. Cooper’s vetoes don’t get overturned, they’ve already had a detrimental impact. McGowan said that people across the country are using legislation targeting LGBTQ+ communities to justify anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, harmful behavior and violence.
“I really encourage students to recognize that this is all of our problem right now,” McGowan said. “Even if you aren't from North Carolina, you don't vote in North Carolina, you're here full time as a student for three to five years, so it's really important for us to figure out how we can support our community.”
McGowan said that there is often a divide between how Elon’s administration is able to support the school’s LGBTQ+ communities compared to student-facing staff and faculty. Still, McGowan hopes that the administration continues to develop support systems and resources for LGBTQ+ students, staff, faculty and local community.
“I am looking forward and hoping that the school is going to step up and stand by our high Campus Pride Index rating and really ensure the safety of queer students,” McGowan said. “Especially within North Carolina, I think that there’s going to need to be a leader in resisting these things.”
House Bill 574
Deemed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” HB574 would prevent transgender students from participating on teams that align with their gender identity throughout middle school, high school and higher education — including intramural sports.
If passed, the bill would impact Elon’s 16 Division 1 teams and 26 intramural teams starting in the upcoming 2023-24 academic year.
HB574 states that sport teams of middle and high schools, as well as higher education institutions, must be “expressly designated by biological sex of the team participants” and that “athletic teams designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex.” This applies for both interscholastic and intramural activities.
Senior Faith Minor said they believe that this bill wouldn’t only harm transgender student athletes, but cisgender students as well.
“This idea that cisgender women can't hope to compete with anybody with a testosterone-based endocrine system is fundamentally misogynistic, before you even get into the transphobia of the whole argument,” Minor said.
In a previous statement to Elon News Network, Elon University spokesperson Owen Covington said that university leadership is “reviewing the language” of the bill. Elon’s current policy aligns with the NCAA’s Transgender Student-Athlete Participation Policy, which uses a “sport-by-sport” approach.
If Cooper's veto is overturned, North Carolina would become the 23rd state to place restrictions on transgender youth in sports, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Senate Bill 49
The bill outlines rules for North Carolina parents and guardians with students enrolled in public elementary schools to be notified if their child changes pronouns at school. The bill also allows parents to review and challenge school material and prohibits instruction on “gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality” for students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
The bill was cosponsored by Republican State Sen. Amy Galey, who represents Alamance and Randolph Counties in District 25.
Minor, who is a middle grades education major, said that school staff are often the first openly LGBTQ+ figures in a student’s life. Minor said that LGBTQ+ students will often look to their teachers for support and guidance.
“They find a lot of hope in that,” Minor said. “These bills are dangerous because they are placed in a position where now their trust in us can be weaponized.”
GLSEN, a national nonprofit focused on LGBTQ+ student safety in schools, releases research on LGBTQ+ student safety, mental health and school policies every two years.
In North Carolina, GLSEN’s research found that 72% of LGBTQ+ students in middle and high schools face harassment due to their sexuality and over half face harassment due to their gender or gender expression.
While the bill is focused around school curriculum and students, Minor said it is important to understand how this bill — and similar legislation — impacts teachers and all student-facing staff.
Even though the bill has not passed, Minor said it is already affecting school climates by justifying transphobic and homophobic behaviors.
“This past fall, I actually had to move my placement because I was experiencing transphobia from the school,” Minor said. “There was pressure coming down from the school board through the principal.”
During their experience as a student-teacher, Minor said school officials and teachers were using discussions of SB49 and similar legislation in other states to justify their censorship.
“They were trying to prevent me from using certain language to talk about myself. All of it was with this perspective of fear that they were enforcing onto me,” Minor said.
In its 2021 National School Climate Survey, GLSEN found that 68% of LGBTQ+ middle and high school students in the U.S. felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, and over 78% avoided school functions because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. GLSEN’s research also showed that over 32% of LGBTQ+ students miss at least one entire day of school each month due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
House Bill 808
The third bill Cooper vetoed on July 5 was HB808, which would prohibit most cases of minors receiving treatments, medications and surgical procedures used for gender transition.
In a public statement, Cooper said “the government should not make itself both the parent and the doctor” and the state should continue allowing decisions such as offering care to children to be made by medical professionals and parents.
“Ordering doctors to stop following approved medical protocols sets a troubling precedent and is dangerous for vulnerable youth and their mental health,” Cooper said in the statement.
Minors who are currently receiving gender affirming medical treatment, or who will start treatment before Aug. 1, will be able to continue receiving care under the bill as long as their parents or guardians consent to the treatment and the medical professional deems it to be “in the best interest of the minor.”
House bill 574 and house bill 808 were both scheduled for votes on July 12, but were postponed to later in the month due to a number of absent representatives. With only 58 of the 72 House Republicans in attendance, the party did not have the numbers for the three-fifths majority needed to override Cooper’s veto.
The bills have both been placed on the calendar for a vote on July 19, as noted on the North Carolina General Assembly website.
These bills are reflective of a national trend of state legislatures pushing to restrict the bodily autonomy, privacy, access to safe healthcare and ability to participate in school sports for transgender youth.
Since the start of the year, 413 pieces of anti-transgender legislation have been proposed or passed throughout the country, according to the Equality Federation.
In a statement to Elon News Network, director of the GLC Luis Garay said he understands how this legislation impacts members of Elon’s community and that the GLC is prepared to continue providing resources and support to those concerned with and impacted by these bills.
“There are some who may be worried and wonder what this means for how they will be supported on campus and outside of campus. There may be hurt, pain, and real fear felt by many,” Garay wrote. “The GLC staff is available to process and hold space for anyone who would like to be in community.”
Minor and McGowan agreed that it is important that Elon’s LGBTQ+ communities continue to support and hold space for one another.
“The most important thing is community, is finding other queer and trans people and finding the spaces that will nourish you and love you,” Minor said.
McGowan said that it is as important for allies to be there for their LGBTQ+ friends as it is for LGBTQ+ individuals to be there for each other.
“Don't expect them to educate you on everything, but I would check in with them, make sure that they're doing okay,” McGowan said. “The way that this affects queer people is very different then the way that it affects straight and cisgender people.”
The LGBTQ+ communities at Elon are more than Elon’s LGBTQ+ students. Minor said the intergenerational nature of Elon and the collaboration and support from LGBTQ+ staff, faculty and administration are what sets the foundation for Elon’s LGBTQ+ communities to thrive.
“It's not just queer and trans students, there are queer and trans adults here who are not staying just four years, who have been here and continue to do this work and make this place better and more healthy and more survivable environment for other queer and trans people,” Minor said. “They're the ones who are able to make sure that the student efforts have longevity and can continue.”
Elon University and GLC offer a variety of resources for students who are stressed about these bills, face harassment on campus or are hoping to connect with Elon’s LGBTQ+ communities.
Over the summer, the GLC office — located on the second floor of Moseley — is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Garay said that students should not hesitate to reach out to the GLC staff, who can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org, if they want support or have concerns.
Safeline, the GLC’s 24/7 hotline, is available to anyone seeking confidential resources and focuses on issues of violence, stalking, bias, harassment and hate. Elon’s counseling services and TimelyCare are also resources students can access.
McGowan warned that harassment targeting LGBTQ+ identities might increase as these bills progress and recommended that students facing this harassment utilize Elon’s bias incident report system.
McGowan also suggested that LGBTQ+ students who want to find community and connect with other students should consider attending the GLC’s Lavender Circle support group, which will start again in the fall semester.
McGowan said that students interested in celebrating, learning about or connecting with the LGBTQ+ communities on campus can attend GLC events and programming throughout the year.
The GLC has a variety of systems and programs in place to create safe spaces and affirming environments for Elon’s LGBTQ+ communities, but Minor said that the university administration needs to be doing more to stand up for the local community.
“Elon has a lot of power in this county, but do they have the courage?” Minor said. “They need to have the courage.”