North Carolina Democratic governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have prohibited trans-identifying biological men from competing in women's sports, arguing that the policy makes "broad, uninformed decisions" about "vulnerable children."
Cooper's veto nullifies the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which the state's GOP-controlled legislature passed last month with support from two Democrats. Cooper disagreed with those party-mates, arguing in a statement that the bill would inflame political "culture wars" by "making broad, uninformed decisions about an extremely small number of vulnerable children."
Should the North Carolina legislature overturn the veto, the state would join at least 22 others that have barred transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex. Proponents of the policy argue that biological men could cause physical harm when competing in women's sports, an issue that has already played out in North Carolina. Last year, a biological male seriously injured a female opponent during a state high school volleyball game. The girl, Payton McNabb, said she battled a concussion and neck injury after taking a spike to the face.
Former collegiate swimmer Riley Gaines, who competed against national transgender swimmer Lia Thomas and appeared alongside McNabb in April to support the North Carolina bill, slammed Cooper for vetoing the measure.
"Hey Gov, reminder that this happened to a girl in your state. She is partially paralyzed on her right side and her vision is still impaired," Gaines said Wednesday of McNabb. "It's not me who has to go to sleep tonight knowing I'm enabling this." McNabb similarly criticized the veto, saying she felt her injury had been "discounted."
"Today Gov Cooper discarded the safety and opportunities of female athletes for the feelings of males," McNabb tweeted.
In addition to his argument that the policy hurts "vulnerable children," Cooper said the transgender sports bill is "neither fair nor needed" and appeared to be "for campaign purposes only." In at least one case, however, a Democrat that Cooper endorsed in 2022 supported the measure. That lawmaker, state senator Val Applewhite, said that after her vote she received "frightening" messages from supporters of transgender athletes, including one who called her a "transphobic cisgender whore."
"I'm telling you, people are afraid to speak publicly," Applewhite told the Carolina Journal. "Like to say, 'Val, I agree with you,' because you become labeled as transphobic or you're met with backlash. Even the coaches and parents that I spoke to, they don't want to say it publicly."