- Applewhite said that, following her vote on H.B 574, she was called many things that "you probably can't print."
Following her vote on Tuesday, Sen. Val Applewhite, D-Cumberland, found herself receiving “frightening” messages after voting in favor of H.B. 574, “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.”
Other than Applewhite, the vote fell along party lines, passing by a margin of 31-17.
The bill would prevent transgender athletes who are biologically male from participating in women’s sports. The bill does not prevent transgender individuals from participating in co-ed leagues, or prevent biological females from playing in men’s leagues.
An article from the Fayetteville Observer said Applewhite received violent threats following the vote. However, Applewhite said she wouldn’t characterize the messages as violent, but more “frightening.”
applewhite’s side of the story
“We’ve taken a lot of votes this session from gun rights to abortion and you always get the emails that support your position or not,” Applewhite told Carolina Journal in a phone interview. “Some of them are happy, and some of them are not, but I have not received any that characterized me as transphobic.”
Applewhite said that, following her vote on H.B 574, she was called many things that “you probably can’t print.”
“The one that kind of captures it all was that I was a ‘transphobic cisgendered whore,'” Applewhite said. “I don’t want to go through the rest of them.”
Applewhite said she has been in politics for a long time, and the comments she received after voting for H.B. 574 scared her to some extent.
“What’s a little frightening for me, personally, is that I’ve been doing this a while now,” Applewhite said. “I served on City Council and now in the Senate. We live very public lives, and the environment that we’re in, you just don’t know what people will do.”
Not all of of the messages Applewhite received following the vote were negative or threatening.
“Some have been very supportive,” she said. “Some have said ‘wow, you cross lines. You [voted] what you believed reflected your constituency.’ I’ve gotten a lot of supportive calls, but I’ve never been called a transphobic cisgendered whore [before].”
“Afraid” to speak publicly
Another concern for Applewhite was a lack of people who were willing to speak out publicly on the issue.
“I’m telling you, people are afraid to speak out publicly,” Applewhite said. “Like to say, ‘Val, I agree with you,’ because you become labeled as transphobic or you’re met with backlash.”
Applewhite recalled conversations with longtime friends and constituents.
“Even the coaches and parents that I spoke to, they don’t want to say it publicly,” she said, referring to their support for women’s sports. “That’s not good when we are afraid to have public discourse over issues.”
Applewhite said even the impassioned debate surrounding the legislature’s vote on Senate Bill 20, which imposed new restrictions on elective abortions, was “just different.”
“People were willing to speak out about S.B. 20, but this one, people just don’t want to be caught up in backlash,” she said.
Concerning her vote on H.B. 574, Applewhite reemphasized her deliberation, and said she did not feel like it was a partisan issue.
“I was very intentional about this,” Applewhite said. “When I saw it in the House and I knew it was coming, I took time to gauge what people were feeling.”
When asked whether she had discussed the issue with Governor Cooper or anyone from his team, Applewhite said she had not.
“In fact, I didn’t tell anyone what I was going to do,” Applewhite said. “After I had my conversations, I made my decision. I just voted what I believe. People say elected officials [should] vote [their] conscience and constituents.”
Applewhite alluded that she knew she might be the only Senate Democrat to vote for the bill.
“I knew where I would be and that I would be by myself, and I was okay with that.”
On Thursday, the House also passed H.B. 574, sending it to Governor Cooper’s desk for consideration. Cooper is likely against the bill, but it remains to be seen whether he will veto it or let it become law without his signature.
In 2022, Governor Cooper decided to primary one of his own Democrats, Sen. Kirk deViere, D-Cumberland, who did not vote with Cooper consistently enough, especially when it came to budget matters. The primary challenger Cooper selected, Val Applewhite, beat deViere in the Democratic primary by a 56-37 percent margin.
Applewhite went on to win the general election against her Republican opponent, former state Senator Wesley Meredith, by a 52-48 percent margin.
Applewhite’s success was Cooper’s victory. However, following the 2022 election results, Republicans held a supermajority in the Senate, meaning that Applewhite’s vote likely would not matter after all.
Applewhite has been a loyal Democratic, toe-ing the party line on most issues. She even voted against the state budget, despite the budget being tied to Medicaid Expansion and seven of her Democratic colleagues voting for it.
Myron Pitts, the opinion editor at the Fayetteville Observer and a Democrat himself, seemed frustrated with Applewhite’s vote.
“I do wonder what the governor thought about the matter,” Pitts wrote, referring to Applewhite presumably disagreeing with Cooper on H.B. 574. “I also wonder if Applewhite’s liberal supporters will feel a sense of buyer’s remorse and consider looking elsewhere come next primary season in 2024.”
Cooper has received criticism for caring too much about loyalty.
Rep. Michael Wray, D-Northampton, was the only Democrat in the House who voted in favor of H.B. 574.