North Dakota governor vetoes bill restricting transgender students’ pronouns

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have prohibited public school teachers and staff from referring to students and other staff by pronouns that do not match their sex assigned at birth.

In a letter expanding on his decision to the North Dakota Senate president, Burgum argued the bill’s ambiguity “would invite lawsuits” and “put teachers in the precarious position of trying to determine how to refer to students without violating law.”

“The teaching profession is challenging enough without the heavy hand of state government forcing teachers to take on the role of pronoun police. Parents, teachers and administrators using compassion, empathy and common sense can address individual and infrequent situations that may arise,” Burgum said.

The bill now heads back to the state Senate, but the legislature could reverse the governor’s veto with a two-thirds vote in either chamber.

Burgum said he’d have had no objections to signing the bill if it included only Senate Bill 2231’s first section, which asserts a state government employee can’t be required to use a colleague’s preferred pronouns. Existing free speech protections, Burgum said, already shield against compelled speech. 

The governor took issue with the second section, which would have barred public school teachers from using a transgender student’s preferred pronouns without permission from both a school administrator and the student’s parents.

“Section 2 infringes on local control by unnecessarily injecting the state into rare instances most appropriately handled at the parent, teacher and school district level. This section removes discretion from school boards, schools and teachers in determining how to accommodate the needs of all students in public schools,” Burgum wrote. 

“Victory! 🎉Senate Bill 2231, legislation [that] would’ve prohibited schools from adopting inclusive policies that acknowledge the gender identity of their students, has been VETOED by Governor Burgum,” wrote the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Dakota on Twitter.

“For trans youth, especially those who cannot be safe at home, school may be one of the few places to be themselves,” a North Dakota ACLU spokesperson told The Associated Press.

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