In the race to stigmatize trans children, North Carolina Republicans have pulled ahead. If passed, Senate Bill 514 wouldn’t just ban people under the age of 21 from getting the transition health care they need, it would also require state employees to out trans and queer children to their parents. If a child displays “symptoms of gender dysphoria, gender nonconformity, or otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor’s sex,” they must notify the child’s parents or guardians, the legislation mandates.
Legislators in other states have proposed bills that would, similarly, prevent trans children from getting medically necessary care. North Carolina, however, is innovative. Co-sponsoring legislators have in essence devised a way to punish gender thoughtcrime. The bill is broad, and could affect tomboys and trans kids alike. A person’s definition of “gender nonconformity” depends first on their conception of gender — of what’s normal, and what isn’t.
The North Carolina bill offers trans kids no way out, and no access to common medical care. Doctors who prescribe puberty blockers or hormones to trans children could have their medical licenses revoked, and would face fines of up to $1,000 per incident, the bill adds. As the Associated Press has reported, advocates for trans youth say the bill places a vulnerable population at high risk. “Transgender youth have the best chance to thrive when they are supported and affirmed, not singled out and denied critical care that is backed by virtually every leading health authority,” said Reverend Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality.
Even if the bill passes, North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, will almost certainly veto it. He’d join Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, both Republicans, in vetoing recent anti-trans legislation. Noem, however, later issued an executive order banning trans girls from women’s sports, and Arkansas lawmakers overrode Hutchinson’s veto. A Cooper veto might not face a similar fate, however. Cooper first won election in the wake of the state’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which banned trans people from using the bathroom that conformed with their gender identity. That bill provoked so much national outrage that the NCAA announced it would boycott the state for championship events — an event that Cooper, and perhaps state legislators, are likely reluctant to repeat. (In 2019, a federal judge approved a settlement that partially repealed the bathroom bill and ended a lawsuit over its constitutionality.)
For legislators like Ralph Hise, the bill’s lead co-sponsor, anti-trans hysteria is a way to signal membership in the Republican Party’s furthest-right wing. It’s also a little ironic, in a way that’s almost become trite. The party that complains most about the cancellation of its members is more than happy to visit similar or worse fates upon others. Hypocrisy, however, is too narrow a frame for comprehending the motives of Hise and his two co-sponsors. They consider the law a weapon. It exists for their own use: to defend their power, both in a political and cultural sense, and to attack apparent threats. A trans child might not seem like an obvious threat, not to most of us. To social conservatives, however, a trans child in search of medical care represents a future they do not want. The bill might not become law, but they’ve pressed the attack, and to them, the attack is all that matters.