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Why do Durham leaders oppose the Parents’ Bill of Rights?

By Monica Chen

Durham leaders could not give reasons why they oppose the Parents’ Bill of Rights that passed the N.C. Senate in February.

The bill, SB49, mostly codifies long-standing, basic practices in education, such as giving parents access to what their children are being taught.

But in February, both the Durham City Council and the Durham County Commissioners passed resolutions condemning the bill as well as HB43, which bans “gender-affirming care” for minors.  

The Durham leaders reached all could not answer this question: What is wrong with banning talk of sexuality and gender in K-4?

Here is that section in SB49:

Commissioner Heidi Carter drew up the resolution at the county commissioners. She pointed to the requirement that schools notify parents of a different name or pronoun for their child as one of the reasons for her opposition.

Critics of SB49 have highlighted that for why they are calling it North Carolina’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Councilwoman Jillian Johnson spearheaded the city council’s resolution, which passed after a brief discussion on Feb 20.

After numerous attempts to reach her in recent weeks, an assistant said Johnson “will not be commenting further.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton had objected to that resolution when it was first proposed on Feb. 9, questioning why it came before the council so fast and whether it was accurate.

He pointed out that according to the FBI, hate crimes nationwide happened most often because of race, not sexuality.

“The power of these resolutions is the moral weight of the voice of the people of Durham. And I think it undermines that voice if we say things knowingly that are not factual,” he said.

Johnson countered that the rate of hate crimes was higher for LGBTQ people than based on race, not the total numbers.

Middleton could not be reached for comment.

The Spring Magazine also asked Johnson about the resolution stating that banning “gender-affirming care” for LGBTQ kids “erodes the safety, health, civil rights, human rights, and bodily autonomy of LGBTQ+ people, including minors.

But how does “affirmation” of transgender students not include wanting them to grow up without damaging their bodies? Is that not about protecting the human rights and bodily autonomy of transgender kids?

Johnson did not respond to that question.


City Council resolution:

County Commissioners resolution:

At the county commissioners meeting on Feb. 27, Commissioner Wendy Jacobs teared up as she spoke about how the bill would affect her adult daughter, who was gay and in a relationship.

“These bills that have been introduced are nothing but hate bills, and we need to call them for what they are, and we need to speak out about the harm, the real harm, that they lead to. And we know what has been happening in our community just in the past few years.”

Jacobs mentioned that almost 20 percent of Gen Z identify as LGBTQ.

“This is two of my three children. It is personal. I want to be able to celebrate that my daughter and her partner are engaged and going to be married. And I don’t want to have to live in fear because of their love for each other. So it’s up to all of us to stand up against hate wherever it is.”

But the Parents’ Bill of Rights is about children, not adults. When asked how a bill about kids would impact her adult daughter, Jacobs could not answer.

Jacobs also said at the commissioners meeting that school funding was a big problem. But school systems still have millions in unspent COVID funds.

When The Spring Magazine pointed out these facts to Jacobs, she did not respond, only referring back to the resolution that was passed:

“My views are reflected in what is stated in this resolution below as well as the additional comments I made during our February 27 meeting regarding impacts to the LGTBQ+ community in our country as well as what I consider to be the critical issues impacting the public education of children in North Carolina today,” she said in an e-mail.

Commissioner Nimasheena Burns had a strong reaction to questions about her comments from February. What she said at the meeting:

“This is an attack on our civil rights and an attack on our children.”

Burns mentioned that there have been eight or nine suicides at N.C. State University this year. There actually have been five.

She added, “Kids need to be able to go into affirming spaces. Because that affirming space might help them make the decision about what they will and will not do with their bodies. But if we’re telling teachers what they can’t talk about, telling social workers what they can’t talk about, … we have now pigeonholed these children. And so now they’re left to their own devices. The only thing they’re going to do is harm themselves with their mouths, with their hands, or they’re going to harm somebody else. So they’ve got to have some kind of outlet.”

Here’s what The Spring Magazine asked her:

“The Parents’ Rights Bill codifies basic practices in education. How is it an attack on civil rights? 

Also, I’m old enough to remember any adult at a school who talks to students about what they should do with their bodies — would’ve just been a creep. Why do you think adults in schools should be talking to kids about their bodies?”

Burns’ response:

“My statement is very clear. Your email is a a [sic] complete misinterpretation of my statement. Drawing false conclusions from plain text and sharing them with the public at large is misleading. I am a staunch supporter of parents as well as students. My voting record is clear. Much like my rhetoric. Both your emails are concerning and take my statements out of context. The language around this bill by lawmakers has been inflammatory towards both the teaching and social work professions. This effects our schools and our students. As you stated in the first email many of the standards are long standing and current. Based on your accusations in the below email, I will be forwarding these missives to counsel.”

Burns added that she never said “adults.” In response to a transcript of her complete statement, she added:

“You accused me of unspeakable acts. Good luck to you. Again these emails in totality are being forwarded to my legal counsel.”

Commissioner Heidi Carter had drawn up the resolution at the county commissioners, saying that her sister is a high school teacher who has had several students come out to her in the past year, including one who said they would have committed suicide otherwise.

“These bills will prevent adults in our schools from connecting with our children in ways they may need,” she said at the meeting.

Carter also could not answer the question: How is it wrong to ban sexual and gender discussions to K-4 students?

Here’s what she said over e-mail:

“SB 49 contains a long list of provisions, many of which restate current law related to parent rights and are redundant.  Other parts of SB 49 change the law and prohibit conversations with students related to pronoun choices without telling parents.  I have heard from students and educators that it is important for schools to feel safe and affirming for all students, including LGBTQ+ students who especially need to know they can trust an educator to maintain the confidentiality of a conversation until the student feels ready to discuss with the parent.  Students need to feel safe seeking help or support in school, and SB 49 may have a chilling effect on open, honest conversations between students and educators, especially for the growing numbers dealing with mental health issues.  

HB 43 makes it illegal for anyone under 18 to receive gender-affirming care, which is considered to be the standard of care among doctors who treat transgender youth and a number of respected medical associations.”

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