Sign up for the daily Inside Washington email for exclusive US coverage and analysis sent to your inboxGet our free Inside Washington email
North Dakota’s Republican governor vetoed a bill that would generally prohibit public schools teachers and staff from referring to transgender students by pronouns other than those reflecting the sex assigned to them at birth.
Gov. Doug Burgum’s veto on Thursday could be reversed by the state Legislature. If it became law, public school teachers and employees would be barred from using a transgender student’s preferred pronoun unless they have permission from the student’s parents as well as a school administrator.
The bill would also prohibit government agencies from requiring employees to use a transgender colleague’s preferred pronoun.
The proposal comes as Republican lawmakers across the U.S. have drafted hundreds of laws this year to push back on LGBTQ+ freedoms, particularly seeking to regulate aspects of transgender people’s lives, including gender-affirming health care, bathroom use, athletics and drag performances.
Although the bill also addresses state employees, Burgum’s veto message focused on its potential impact on public schools.
“The teaching profession is challenging enough without the heavy hand of state government forcing teachers to take on the role of pronoun police,” Burgum said in a letter to state Senate leaders. “Parents, teachers and administrators using compassion, empathy and common sense can address indiual and infrequent situations that may arise.”
The First Amendment already protects teachers from speaking contrary to their beliefs, the governor added in his letter. He said existing law also protects the free speech rights of state employees, who cannot be required to use preferred pronouns.
Lawmakers who support the vetoed bill have said in debates it would free teachers from worrying about how to address each student and create a better learning environment.
Opponents said it targeted already vulnerable transgender students.
“For trans youth, especially those who cannot be safe at home, school may be one of the few places to be themselves,” ACLU of North Dakota spokesperson Cody Schuler, said in a statement. “Trans youth thrive when they are affirmed in their gender identity, which includes being called by a name and pronouns that reflect who they are.”
Schuler praised Burgum’s veto in the statement Thursday, saying such bills are motivated by “ignorance, misinformation and fear.”
The bill returns to the Legislature for reconsideration. The House approved it 60-32 in February, three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto. It passed the Senate in January with a veto-proof majority.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Da Hogue, of Minot, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
In 2021, Burgum vetoed a bill that would have barred transgender girls from playing on girls’ teams in public schools.
Lawmakers didn’t override the veto, but are considering new legislation this session to replicate and expand that bill, including at the college level. Two bills passed the House with veto-proof majorities. The Senate considered them on Monday.