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With veto overrides, trans youth and advocates wait to see the impact of new legislation in NC

Trans flag
Nick de la Canal
Trans and Pride flags at the Time Out Youth building in Charlotte.

Updated Aug. 17, 2023

The Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly voted Wednesday night to override Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes on three bills affecting transgender and LGBTQ youth.

The Gender Transition for Minors bill would ban doctors from providing transition-related healthcare to people under 18, including puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries.

The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act would ban transgender girls from playing women’s sports in middle school through college.

A third bill, titled the "Parents' Bill of Rights" would limit instruction of LGBTQ topics in elementary schools and require school staff to notify families if their children asks to use a different name or pronouns in school.

Ahead of the override votes Wednesday, WFAE's Nick de la Canal spoke with Sarah Mikhail, the executive director of Time Out Youth, which works with local queer and trans youth in Charlotte, to hear more about the bills' potential impacts.

Nick de La Canal: I know you've been following these bills for some time as they've made their way through the General Assembly. What's your reaction and how is staff feeling?

Sarah Mikhail: My reaction is really ... sadness honestly. It feels really hard to have watched this happen in North Carolina, where we're seeing so much harm against the LGBT community and trans youth. So, I feel sad that they have to listen, watch and hear their humanity being under attack and the team is afraid for our youth. Young people now are so activated, they're politically engaged, they know what's going on. So we work really hard every day to create a really safe affirming environment because they're afraid of what this means for their future.

The state House and Senate voted mostly along party lines Wednesday to override Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes of controversial transgender restrictions.

De La Canal: And what else are you hearing from the queer and trans youth in your program?

Mikhail: So, our young people are really confused. What does this mean if I'm already on hormones or already started my transition, will I be able to continue? We have parents that are like, ‘Do I need to move my child out of this state so they can continue to flourish?’ Parents that see, that seeing their young person for who they are, getting them lifesaving medical care. is not a political issue. It's caring for their family.

So, we hear a lot of fear and a lot of anger, a lot of willingness to fight for themselves, for their peers, even our non-trans youth. They're like, ‘I want to fight for my friends that should be able to get the care that they need’ and they really see it as, not political, but a really negative attack on them that doesn't make any sense because in their minds, ‘How is it political whether I should exist or be able to get health care that I need?’ It's actually quite simple to them.

De La Canal: How do you think that these bills might impact some of these youth or the families that you work with? You mentioned that some were considering moving.

Mikhail: Yes, I think it would have very large logistical impact — families that support their children moving or finding providers that will get them access to this care or engaging in sports teams that even won't allow their child to be on them. But actually, what I feel very strongly is that we will see more young people die. We are every day, here doing suicide prevention. To adults that it doesn't impact, it’s politics. To our community, to our young people, it is lifesaving care.

De La Canal: And this isn't just a North Carolina phenomenon, of course. This is happening in other states, as well, even with books about transgender youth and LGBTQ topics, and whether that can be allowed in classrooms.

Mikhail: We have an amazing staff member whose entire role is going into schools, educating adults about what it means to affirm young people at school, being one of the places that LGBTQ youth are still bullied, and their outcomes are less promising if they don't stay in school, right? I'm actually grateful for parents who are really supportive, who might move to get their kid what they need.

I'm really scared for the kids whose parents already aren't supporting them. We know that LGBTQ, 60% of them grow up in non-affirming homes, which means, what will happen for them when their parents are on the side that says ‘You shouldn't get to do this.’ We help house houseless young people all the time who have been rejected from their families.

De La Canal: I also want to ask about Charlotte Pride, which is taking place this week with many of the festivities this weekend. Pride has always been part demonstration and public protest and also part celebration of joy and community. How are you thinking about Pride this year? Are you inclined to see this weekend as more of a celebration or protest?

Mikhail: And we are leaning really hard into celebration this weekend, every day in this building, we get a mix of both of those things. We get a mix of protest, trauma, difficult things happening — and then we get laughter and joy and we are really leaning into Pride this weekend to celebrate the vibrancy of our young people.

We have four youths performing on the Charlotte Pride stage. Their own artistry, songs they've written, and we had a talent show to pick those people. We had young people design our T-shirt. So, we're leaning into what's the best thing about our community because we're fighting every day.

Enjoying, experiencing, being able to show our community that we are not going to back down in the face of attack — we're just going to show you how strong we are — is really what our staff, our whole team will be there and many of our young people will be there doing with us.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal