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North Carolina measure limiting LGBTQ+ curriculum heading to governor's desk

 A Pride Flag is waved during the 2016 NC Pride parade in Durham.
A Pride Flag is waved during the 2016 NC Pride parade in Durham.

North Carolina lawmakers on Thursday finalized legislation touted by Republicans as giving parents greater authority over their children's public school education and health care, with limits on LGBTQ+ instruction in early grades a key provision.

The Senate, which passed the measure the day after the House pushed through some alterations, now heads to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is expected to veto it. The bill also would require public school teachers in most circumstances to alert parents before they call a student by a different name or pronoun.

The provision prohibiting instruction about gender identity and sexuality in the curriculum for K-4 classrooms have been likened by critics to the Florida law that opponents call " Don't Say Gay." But supporters say at these ages such topics should be left to parents to address.

A similar "Parents' Bill of Rights" measure advanced during last year's session, but had idled in the House in part because Republicans believed at the time that it would be difficult to override any Cooper veto given the number of Democratic lawmakers. Republicans now hold veto-proof majorities in each chamber, But one House Republican's 'no' vote on Wednesday signals a successful override this year isn't a foregone conclusion.

"The whole point of the bill is that parents in North Carolina should be empowered to raise their children the way that they see fit in their family without being questioned or interrogated or undermined by the state of North Carolina," said Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican and a chief bill sponsor. She spoke before the Senate passed the measure in a 26-13 party-line vote.

Over the past week, the GOP-dominated legislature also has sent other bills affecting LGBTQ+ youth to Cooper's desk, where they're also likely to be vetoed. One measure would prohibit any medical professional from providing hormone therapy, puberty blockers and surgical gender transition procedures to anyone under 18. The other would prohibit transgender girls from playing in middle school, high school and college sports designated for girls.

These bills comprise a one-sided culture war by those who aren't willing to accept the rapid expansion of LGBTQ+ rights, said Sen. Lisa Grafstein, a Wake County Democrat and LGBTQ+ lawmaker. She mentioned children and parents who have fought against the bills during this year's session and have said the measures will stoke fear among trans youth and other students.

"Queer people are here. We've always been here. And most people have evolved as human beings to understand and accept this fact," Grafstein said. "What we're seeing here is the last vestiges of efforts to erase the LGBTQ community."

The latest measure also lays out specific rights of parents to direct their child's education, care and training; access their school records; and learn quickly if government or schools suspect a crime has been committed against them. It directs that public school units provide policies on parental involvement and how to encourage student achievement in the classroom. And it also makes clear that health care practitioners must obtain written consent from a parent before a minor can receive treatment.

Some parents' groups and social conservatives have pushed for the latest measure, at times pointing to books in schools on LGBTQ+ topics that they consider obscene and difficulties during the pandemic learning about what their children were being taught. Galey said some public school systems and schools have policies to withhold information from parents about their child seeking to change pronouns or their name in the interest of protecting youth. That's wrongly encouraging perceptions of mistrust, she said.

On curriculum, Sen. Graig Meyer, an Orange County Democrat and bill opponent, said early-grade teachers should be equipped to address gender and differing family configurations with "positive, productive, inclusive, welcoming, affirming and clear ways ... This bill makes it harder, not easier, to do that."

The bill says the definition of curriculum does "not include responses to student-initiated questions."

GOP Sen. Jim Perry of Lenoir County said there are differences of opinion within society as to whether gender and sexuality are appropriate topics for young children, and "by not having one view be part of the curriculum, we are acknowledging that, and everyone is free to feel as they wish."

Equality NC, an LGBTQ+ rights group, urged Cooper to veto the measure. The socially conservative North Carolina Values Coalition said he should sign it.

Copyright 2023 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

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