Two new bills proposed by North Carolina lawmakers legislate the education and impede the rights of LGBTQIA+ youth in the state. The bills are part of the recent wave of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, as of March 1, legislators have proposed 351 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in the 2023 legislative session.
House Bill 43 prohibits minors from receiving hormone therapies, puberty blockers, and other forms of gender-affirming health care, despite a study at Stanford University School of Medicine indicating that transgender people who started hormone therapy in adolescence reported improved mental well-being.
Colloquially known as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” Senate Bill 49 places overt control of the education of LGBTQIA+ youth in parents’ hands. The bill allows parents to access all of their children’s educational records, medical records, and class material and requires teachers to notify parents regarding students’ pronouns and name preferences, forcing many LGBTQIA+ youth to come out to families before they are ready.
The sharp rise in anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation comes after Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill was signed last year, banning the instruction of LGBTQIA+ topics in elementary school classrooms.
The Georgetown Journal of Gender and Law noted that the bill “transforms classrooms into unsafe spaces for LGBTQ+ students,” perpetuating challenges students face. The bill has been the catalyst for dozens of similar bills that have popped up nationwide, fueling ideological wars that continue to tear apart political chambers. Beneath the political posturing, however, LGBTQIA+ youth are the most impacted.
Surveys from The Trevor Project report that in 2022, 45% of LGBTQIA+ youth ages 13-24 considered suicide. Among transgender and nonbinary youth, less than a third report their families as gender-affirming, and 60% of LGBTQIA+ youth who wanted mental health care couldn’t access it.
For minors who cannot obtain the necessary resources, school organizations are critical in connecting them with their peers.
“Everyone deserves a place where they feel like they belong,” said Allen Botwick, a chorus teacher in Wake County, North Carolina who sponsors his school’s True Equality Alliance. “In a dream world, that would be school; however, that is not our reality.”
Botwick thinks the recent legislation puts teachers in uncomfortable positions, forcing them to choose between job security and supporting their students. The passage of SB 49 would put further strain on parent-teacher relationships and endanger the presence of LGBTQIA+ clubs like the True Equality Alliance.
Outside of school clubs, nonprofit organizations in local communities are rallying to support LGBTQIA+ youth.
Since its inception 13 years ago, the LGBT Center of Raleigh has uplifted communities throughout the district. Executive Director Patricia Corbett affirms the importance of the center’s programs, particularly for youth from non-gender-affirming households.
“For some of our youth, our programs are the only chance that they are around like-minded peers who affirm them,” Corbett said. “But we’re seeing more parents coming to us concerned [about] their children’s mental health well-being because of these attacks on schools and medical systems.”
Even in supportive households, many parents fear repercussions from others in the community as anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation and political discourse encourage homophobia and transphobia on an interpersonal level.
An analysis published last year by the National Crime Victimization Survey found that LGBTQIA+ Americans are nine times more likely to be a victim of a hate crime than cisgender and heterosexual Americans. The LGBT Center of Raleigh seeks to prevent this, offering a safe haven to all LGBTQIA+-identifying people and creating specialized programs designed to support youth.
“These programs are designed [to] offer more relaxed settings for youth to feel more comfortable to come,” Corbett said. The center offers open discussion forums at coffeehouses, hosts a queer young adult book club, sponsors a leadership program titled “A Safer Place for Youth to Reach Excellence,” and facilitates weekly activities that allow LGBTQIA+ youth to engage with peers.
“We really try to give [youth] the tools and the confidence to support themselves and their peers [because] some of these youth are afraid to come out and be themselves at school right now,” Corbett said. The program aims to educate youth on recent policy issues, fostering changemakers in the community. “We’re shaping them [to] be advocates for themselves and advocate for their peers.”
Like many nonprofits, the center frequently struggles to secure funding and resources to provide for its communities.
Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ 2019-20 resources tracking report that showed LGBTQIA+ nonprofit organizations received 23 cents from every $100 of philanthropic donations. The report identified the top 10 contributors accounted for 60% of domestic LGBTQIA+ funding, indicating a widespread lack of support from philanthropic organizations.
“Finance is always going to be an issue,” Corbett said, adding that the organization balances delivering quality programs and reaching more members of the community. “In our community, we are serving an entire county with a four-person staff … Without more funding, we can’t fill the capacity to be able to reach more of our community,”
The organization has also faced opposition from others in the community, forcing the center to fund training for staff and adopt increased safety protocols at events.
“We’ve had protests at [Drag Queen Story Hour] from Proud Boys and other community members that [don’t] embrace us as a community,” Corbett said. “This legislation gives them more power to be present and show up.”
Other nonprofits, including youth-led network iNSIDEoUT and Time Out Youth Center, provide resources and opportunities across the state, hosting events that connect various community members.
As LGBTQIA+ communities brace for the devastating impacts of recent legislation, support from allies in the community remains imperative to combating violence and hatred.
“We ask to be loved [by] the outer community for the whole year, and not just to support us and celebrate us during Pride Month,” Corbett said. “Allies really need to understand how harmful [this] legislation is to our community.”