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North Carolina Democrat Joins GOP as State Sees Rash of Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills

North Carolina Democrat Joins GOP as State Sees Rash of Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Rep. Tricia Cotham

Tricia Cotham's party switch creates a Republican supermajority that could override vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

A spate of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been introduced in North Carolina — while a state representative has switched her party affiliation from Democratic to Republican, giving the House of Representatives a GOP supermajority that can override any vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. The state’s Senate already had a veto-proof Republican supermajority.

State Rep. Tricia Cotham announced her party switch Wednesday. “I am no longer a Democrat, but I remain a public servant, that is what I am called to do. The party that represents me and my principles and what is best for North Carolina is the Republican Party,” she said at a news conference in Raleigh, the state capital, CNN reports. She represents a heavily Democratic district in Mecklenburg County, part of the Charlotte metropolitan area.

“The turning point for me was when I was criticized for using the American flag and the praying hands emoji on all my social media platforms and even on the back of different vehicles that I have,” she said.

Republicans welcomed her, saying her move shows the Democratic Party has become too radical. But some Democrats expressed hope that she won’t embrace all Republican positions.

“Rep. Cotham’s votes on women’s reproductive freedom, election laws, LGBTQ rights and strong public schools will determine the direction of the state we love,” Gov. Cooper said in a statement to CNN. “It’s hard to believe she would abandon these long-held principles and she should still vote the way she has always said she would vote when these issues arise, regardless of party affiliation.”

There was also anger from Democrats, some of whom held their own news conference in Raleigh. “Rep. Cotham’s decision to switch parties is a deceit of the highest order. It is a betrayal to the people of Mecklenburg County, with repercussions not only for the people of her district, but for the entire state of North Carolina,” North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton said at the event, according to CNN. “Reproductive freedoms are on the line. Our public schools are on the line. LGBTQ rights are on the line. Voting rights are on the line. Our future as a state is on the line.”

“This is not about political vendettas. This is about the constituents that trusted Rep. Cotham to champion their values, who are now left with little reassurance that she will do that,” Clayton added. “HD 112 is a 60 percent Democratic district, y’all. And they did not choose to elect a Republican. They chose to elect a Democrat.”

“I knew there was a problem — when we invited Tricia Cotham to the Human Rights Campaign dinner a few weeks ago, she didn’t show up,” added Cameron Pruette, chair of the LGBTQ+ Democrats of Mecklenburg County. “Is this a premeditated move? How long has she known? The voters deserve to know.”

LGBTQ+ rights are indeed in the line in North Carolina. This week, Equality North Carolina notes, lawmakers introduced two bills that ban or restrict gender-affirming care for transgender youth; one allowing health care providers to discriminate based on their personal beliefs; and multiple bills barring trans students from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. The bills are part of a trend that has seen more than 400 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced nationwide.

The North Carolina Senate has already passed its version of a “don’t say gay” bill, limiting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. The House has yet to take action but is expected to approve it. Cooper has pledged to veto the measure, but Cotham’s party switch means his veto could be overridden if she votes along Republican lines.

Equality North Carolina Executive Director Kendra R. Johnson released a statement condemning the latest anti-LGBTQ+ bills.

“We are outraged to see lawmakers target our most vulnerable youth,” she said. “Banning kids from playing sports because of who they are prevents them from having positive and formative experiences at school. And preventing parents from making decisions on their child’s health care is harmful and life-threatening. These bills do nothing to address the real issues facing our youth, like gun violence in schools or the mental health crisis. Instead of working to make schools safe environments, our lawmakers are bullying queer and trans kids.”

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