Parents’ Bill of Rights bill moves forward in state Senate, sparking concern among LGBTQ community

Lawmakers are pushing to give parents more control over their child’s education but opponents of the bill are concerned that it would hurt students.
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 5:51 PM EST
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - Lawmakers in Raleigh are pushing to give parents more control over their child’s education. But advocates are concerned that a bill introduced by Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover County) could hurt some students in the state’s public school system.

Senate Bill 49, dubbed the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” would bring about several changes in North Carolina public schools. It bans public schools from teaching about gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality from Kindergarten through fourth grade. It would also give parents the right to learn about the curriculum their child is being taught and the clubs they may choose to participate in.

“This gives the parent the ability to fulfill the responsibility the parent has in order to raise their child and support their child,” said Sen. Lee.

The issue that’s caused concern for many people within the LGBTQ community is that the bill would require teachers or administrators to notify a parent if a child wants to go by a different name or change their preferred pronouns.

“Kids get beat up by their parents and they often get thrown out as young teenagers to live on the streets,” said Karen Ziegler, a retired minister of an LGBTQ church who spoke at Wednesday’s Education Committee meeting.

“Parental involvement requires trust,” said Joaquin Carcano, a transgender man. “This destroys that foundation. Our priority should be to invest in our educational system and our youth, not drive students and teachers away into isolation and shame.”

Lee filed the bill Tuesday and presented it to the education committee on Wednesday. Despite several people opposed to the bill speaking before the committee, he and other sponsors of the bill believe it’s what kids need.

“Nowhere in this bill does it talk about sexual orientation or whether a student is gay or not -- only address the pronouns and the name, which may or may not be indicative,” said Sen. Amy Galey, who represents Alamance and Randolph counties.

“Parents have the right to know because they might be able to help the child,” said Sen. Lee. “Not all parents are what you describe.”

Caroline Morin, the executive director of the LGBTQ Center of the Cape Fear Coast, says that while that may be true, school for some students may be the only place they feel safe to be themselves.

“When youth identify that ‘hey, you know what, school is a really safe place for me,’ unfortunately, that might not carry over at home whether it’s because a lack of understanding, a lack of resources in that community,” said Morin. “There are all sorts of things that could make a household less accepting, less resourced, less knowledgeable -- and that could be scary for kids.”

Nathan Burton, a transgender man who graduated from New Hanover High last year, knows the fear kids could face.

“When HB2 passed, I heard my middle school classmates talk about how they’d sexually assault and murder a hypothetical trans-person,” said Burton. “These bills don’t stop anyone from being queer. They do foster a dangerous environment for queer kids.”

LGBTQ youth are at higher suicide risk than others, something advocates believe might be made worse if kids are outed without consent.

One parent who spoke in front of the committee says she’s been on the other side of the conversation. Earlier this school year, she told her child they were not permitted to change their name. In hindsight, the mother says she’s glad they were able to do so without permission when they were in school.

“I failed as a parent in not giving them the freedom, the safety they needed at home but they were able to find it at school,” said Renee Sekel.

Despite concerns presented on Wednesday, the bill passed the Education Committee and was referred to the Heath Committee. If that committee also votes in favor of the bill, it will then be referred to the Rules and Operations of the Senate.