LGBTQ protections at crossroads in Nebraska Legislature

One legislator threatens to bring Legislature to a ‘screeching halt’ to maintain progress

By: - March 1, 2023 5:45 am
Trans rights advocates hold signs that say "Stop attacks on trans youth," "trans rights are human rights" and "trans Nebraskans belong" at a protest in the Nebraska State Capitol

Trans rights advocates gather for a rally in the Nebraska State Capitol on Feb. 8, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature stands at a crossroads in 2023 regarding LGBTQ Nebraskans, with critical bills that could expand or limit protections.

This session’s proposals include restrictions on what bathrooms transgender youths could use and which athletic teams they could participate in. Other bills could expand nondiscrimination policies to include gender identity or sexual orientation as well as broaden marriage definitions.

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha threatened last week to bring the Legislature to a “screeching halt” over a proposal to restrict what medical care trans youth could receive.

State Sen. John Fredrickson of Omaha speaks at a rally for trans youth on Feb. 8, 2023, in the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

State Sen. John Fredrickson of Omaha said this session will be significant for LGBTQ Nebraskans — and not just because his election last fall established an unofficial “caucus” of openly LGBTQ senators, including State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha.

The Legislature has addressed LGBTQ policies in the past, Fredrickson said, but a handful of bills this session would “chip away” at those rights.

“In Nebraska, we haven’t seen anything quite as aggressive and bold as what we’re seeing this year, so it’s an interesting year to start, for sure, given this is kind of an unprecedented dynamic,” Fredrickson said. “But at the same time, we’re also seeing some really great, proactive legislation to ensure that the community is protected.”

Expanding protections

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha speaks at a rally for trans youth on Feb. 8, 2023, in the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Bills that could expand protections this session include Legislative Bill 169 and LB 670, both proposed by Hunt. The bills would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s employment nondiscrimination policies. 

LB 169 would apply to government employers, labor organizations and private employers with 15 or more employees, while LB 670 would apply to employers of any size.

LB 179, proposed by Fredrickson, would prohibit conversion therapy for minors in the state, what he defined as a “deceptive” medical practice to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Lincoln in 2021 became the first city in Nebraska to ban conversion therapy.

“We need to ensure that all Nebraskans are protected,” Fredrickson said.

LB 316, proposed by Fredrickson, would clean up some language regarding marriage in the state, such as removing a provision in state law that people cannot get married if they have a sexually transmitted disease. 

Marriage applicants would also be listed as Spouse 1 and Spouse 2.

Legislative Resolution 26CA, a constitutional amendment proposed by State Sen. Jen Day of Omaha, would remove mentions of marriage from the Nebraska Constitution.

In 2000, voters defined marriage in the Nebraska Constitution as a union between one man and one woman and invalidated same-sex civil unions. Both the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 and Congress in 2022 recognized same-sex relationships, but the Nebraska law remains on the books.

Day’s measure would, if passed, allow voters to decide whether Article I, Section 29 should be removed from the Constitution.

Daily filibuster

Two bills at the forefront of debate this year are LB 574 and LB 575, both proposed by State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha. The proposals would, respectively, restrict what gender-affirming care minors could receive and restrict K-12 school bathrooms and sporting teams to students based on sex assigned at birth.

LB 574 would specifically prohibit the treatment of or referrals for procedures such as puberty blockers, hormone treatments and genital or nongenital surgeries for gender dysphoria.

Senators listen to trans rally
State Sens. Machaela Cavanaugh and Jen Day, both of Omaha, join in support of trans youth at a rally in the Nebraska State Capitol on Feb. 8, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

The Health and Human Services Committee, of which Cavanaugh and Day are members, voted 4-3 last Wednesday (along party lines) to bring LB 574 to the floor.

LB 575, referred to the Education Committee, has not yet been voted on, but five of the eight committee members are cosponsors.

Day said LGBTQ rights continue to be in the “crosshairs” nationwide. Cavanaugh vowed Friday to filibuster every bill this session — even ones she supports — to slow down the process.

According to Cavanaugh, if she continues to filibuster, the Legislature would be able to pass only a few dozen bills. That’s with 15-hour debate days, she added.

“If 574 is what we want to accomplish, then it’s going to come at the expense of everything else,” Cavanaugh told the Examiner on Tuesday.

‘Chill’ on transition care

Kauth has repeatedly said her bills have nothing to do with hate, as Cavanaugh and others have said, arguing they would “protect children.” That is the same argument Cavanaugh has used to justify her actions.

Kathleen Kauth testifies
State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha introduces her bill to restrict gender-altering care to those older than 19. She appears at a hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Kauth said gender-affirming counseling and other therapies would not be banned under LB 574, but State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha and some opponents said that may not be the case.

Hunt said Kauth’s bill would send a “chill” on all gender-affirming care, echoing calls that the legislation could “erase” trans Nebraskans.

“What it’s going to do is chill even the ability of a kid to transition,” Hunt said on the legislative floor Tuesday.

Kauth and State Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, whose legislation this session has also been criticized by LGBTQ advocates, said Tuesday they could not yet comment on Hunt’s nondiscrimination proposal until they reviewed it further.

‘I will not let them down’

Cavanaugh emphasized she wants LGBTQ Nebraskans to know they are loved and valued and that there are people in the Legislature fighting for them.

“I want the LGBTQ community, as a whole, to have hope and faith that there are people in positions of power that will not let them down. I will not let them down,” Cavanaugh said. “The last thing I will do is fail.”

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach rejoins the Nebraska Examiner after studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, following a yearlong Examiner internship. His coverage focus areas have included politics and government, health and well-being and higher education.

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