Fairness in Women’s Sports Act heads to Cooper; veto, override expected

Rep. Erin Pare (center) poses with Peyton McNabb (left) and Riley Gaines (right) at the press room at the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh. AP Dillon/North State Journal

RALEIGH — The bill barring biological men from participating in women’s sports teams in the state’s K-12 public schools and universities received its final approval in the House on June 22. 

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 31-17 on June 20. The measure cleared that chamber with a single Democrat’s support; Val Applewhite (D-Cumberland). Cooper had endorsed Applewhite during the 2022 election cycle in what many saw as a way to squash dissent in the Democratic ranks and punish the seat’s two-term incumbent, Democrat Sen. Kirk deViere, for not toeing the party line. 

In a concurrence vote, the House passed House Bill 574, The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, by a vote of 62-43. A single Democrat voted in favor, Rep. Michael Wray (D-Northampton). 

The governor has signaled he will veto the bill, but that veto will likely be overridden as both chambers hold veto-proof majorities. 

“Today the General Assembly affirmed the rights under Title IX of female student athletes in North Carolina. Women and girls who train for countless hours and years in their sports will have a level playing field, and their opportunities will be protected if this legislation becomes law,” said NC Values Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald in a statement.  

“This bill will also guard the safety of females. The severe injuries of Payton McNabb caused by the strength of a trans athlete shows bodies play sports, not identities,” said Fitzgerald. “State and national polling shows support for this type of legislation is overwhelmingly high, and I urge Governor Cooper to side with women and girls by signing this bill into law. I look forward to North Carolina joining the other 21 states which have enacted this type of pro-woman legislation for female athletes.” 

When the bill made its first successful pass through the House, one of its primary sponsors, Rep. Erin Paré, stated, “We need to fight for fairness in women’s sports, no question. As a mom of two teenage competitive athletes, I am proud to be a champion for protecting women’s sports in North Carolina. Thank you to Rep. Jennifer Balkcom for your leadership on this bill.” 

Wake County House Democrat Julie von Haefen, who voted against the bill, claimed passage of the bill teaches kids to discriminate. 

“Transgender kids should be treated with dignity and respect,” tweeted von Haefen. “School sports are supposed to teach kids teamwork, but when we ban transgender kids from participating like in HB574, we teach them the exact opposite- that discrimination & exclusion is ok.” 

The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act saw support come from the national stage when 12-time U.S. All-American Swimmer Riley Gaines made her case to block men from competing in women’s sports to various committees hearing the bill in April. Gaines recalled how she had tied swimmer Lia Thomas, who is transgender, but NCAA officials gave Thomas the trophy instead for “photo op” reasons. 

North Carolina high school volleyball player Peyton McNabb also testified how she was injured by a transgender player during a match and still has lingering medical issues as a result. 

Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) appeared to doubt and dismiss McNabb’s injuries during her remarks at a Senate Education/Higher Education Committee meeting on April 18.  

“I understand there was one report at a volleyball game where it’s unclear if the athlete was a trans athlete and if that was the reason, injuries happen,” Marcus said. “I will point out injuries happen in sports all the time. We don’t need legislation to try to protect everyone and in every case.”