State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha introduces her bill to restrict what gender-affirming care those older younger 19 can receive on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Supporters and opponents testified for about seven hours Wednesday on State Sen. Kathleen Kauth’s proposal to ban gender-altering care for minors in Nebraska.
Legislative Bill 574 — the “Let Them Grow Act” — would prohibit health care providers from administering to patients younger than 19 medical interventions such as puberty blockers, hormone treatments and genital or non-genital surgeries for gender dysphoria. The proposal would also ban providers from offering referrals and would allow for a civil penalty against physicians who offer the care.
Gender-affirming counseling or other therapies would not be banned, according to Kauth.
Kauth told the Health and Human Services Committee that her bill is designed to protect kids with gender dysphoria from “irreversible, destructive, experimental” medical care until they reach adulthood, offering support during adolescence.
“Once the intensity of the treatment and surgeries are complete, these individuals are still dealing with issues that the surgeries have only made more complex,” Kauth said.
Opponents of Kauth’s bill, such as Mike Hornacek, who is the parent of a transgender child, said the legislation would be an “extreme intrusion” into his family’s medical decisions.
“It says that we do not have a right to decide how best to care for and support each other as a family. Those decisions are not yours,” Hornacek said. “They are not anybody else’s, they are my family’s and nobody else’s.”
Supporters who’ve received care
A handful of people who had previously received, sought or considered gender-affirming care testified in support of Kauth’s proposal.
Luka Hein, who said she went through gender-affirming care as a minor, said she had a history of mental health issues and was “groomed” to hate herself and her body. She received a double mastectomy at age 16 and cross-sex hormones a few months later.
“At 21 I deal with constant joint pain, my breasts are gone and I do not know if I will ever be able to carry a child someday,” Hein testified. “I will deal with these consequences for possibly the rest of my life, never knowing if it will go away and feeling abandoned by the medical professionals who did this to me.”
Cat Cattinson said she detransitioned, seeking care initially as a result of anorexia. Erin Brewer, who said she was enticed to transition but didn’t, said her dysphoria came after a sexual assault.
Cattinson and Brewer said support would be better aimed at therapies or counseling treatments.
Mario Presents, director of chapters for Gays Against Groomers, who is believed to have ties to the Proud Boys and has contributed to QAnon conspiracy theories, also testified in support.
Several of those testifying in support of the bill have testified on similar legislation around the country.
Opponents of the legislation packed the State Capitol Rotunda for a rally hosted by OutNebraska and the ACLU of Nebraska, arguing before the hearing that the legislation was part of “unprecedented attacks” against the “very lives” of transgender youths and adults.
Dr. Elizabeth Constance, an OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinologist who testified for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said 29 organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association, have physician statements and best practice guidelines for what is “life-saving care.”
“Today, we come together to remind our elected officials that our transgender and gender diverse family and neighbors have heartbeats, too,” Constance said during the rally. “They deserve the same rights to self-determination and bodily autonomy as every other Nebraskan.”
Dr. Elizabeth Weedin, an OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist, said she and other physicians refer patients regularly to experts in the field and urged the committee to leave medical decisions to the experts.
Dr. Jean Amoura with Nebraska Medicine and Dr. Alex Dworak with OneWorld Community Health Centers in Omaha told the committee and the Nebraska Examiner in an interview that parents are always involved in gender-affirming care and the child, parent and physician would all need to provide written consent before treatment. Amoura spoke as an individual physician. Dworak also spoke on behalf of his employer.
State Sens. Megan Hunt and John Fredrickson (the Legislature’s two openly LGBTQ members) also spoke at the rally.
Former State Sen. John McCollister urged the committee not to turn the Legislature into a “professional medical panel,” which he said it is not equipped to become.
‘Innocence of kids’
Kauth said in an interview that she wants trans youth to know “we care deeply” about them but do not want them to go through “irreversible” medical procedures.
She and multiple supporters emphasized the need to support youth with gender dysphoria. While there is no legislation this session to allocate funds to those areas, Kauth said she could “absolutely” look at funding and how to increase services next session.
“We need to protect the innocence of kids for just a little bit,” Kauth said. “Let them get the therapy that they need. Let them work with loving, supportive people. Nobody in Nebraska wants them to fail or not be here.”
Kauth told the committee that children are already restricted from other actions such as use of alcohol or tobacco, getting tattoos or attending adult-rated movies. Gender-altering care should be treated the same, she said.
Trans people, families testify
Isabella Manhart, an 18-year-old nonbinary Nebraskan whose 10-year-old brother is transgender, told the committee their brother has known he was a boy “since he could speak” and worries every day whether he will be bullied for who he is.
“The fact that anyone could look at my baby brother and think he deserves anything less than the basic human right to access health care that supports his needs absolutely breaks my heart,” Manhart said.
Rachel Ogborn said that when her daughter’s voice dropped, her “world went dark,” and after many emergency room visits, gender-affirming care has helped save her daughter’s life.
“If it makes you feel any better, neither myself nor my daughter have ever considered surgery for her as a minor, but it’s absolutely no one else’s business anyway,” Ogborn testified.
Hornacek, the CEO of a nonprofit that tries to combat homelessness, said at the rally that if Kauth’s legislation passed, it would force families — his included — to leave the state, leading to fewer resources, finances, skills and knowledge.
Ash Homan, a trans minor, said youth already have enough mental health challenges without continuing to live with their assigned gender at birth if they don’t feel that way.
“Whatever age a trans person starts to feel that way is the age that person should be able to live as they want to be,” Ash said, adding the legislation underestimates how much children know about their bodies.
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