Nebraska Gov. Pillen enacts second governor-led ‘Women’s Bill of Rights’

By: - August 30, 2023 12:30 pm

Gov. Jim Pillen, at right, speaks next to Riley Gaines on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, in La Vista. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include context of Women’s Bill of Rights enacted through legislation in Kansas and Tennessee.

LINCOLN — Nebraska is following in Oklahoma’s footsteps after Gov. Jim Pillen established a “Women’s Bill of Rights” that will limit certain legal definitions for transgender Nebraskans.

Pillen announced the executive order Wednesday, the second signed by a U.S. governor establishing a Women’s Bill of Rights. The order defines a person’s “sex” as either male or female at birth. It applies to the executive branch, including state agencies, boards and commissions.

A “female” is defined as someone whose biological reproductive system is developed to produce ova and a “male” as someone whose biological reproductive system is developed to fertilize the ova of a female. 

The order also provides definitions for “woman” and “girl,” “man” and “boy” and “mother” and “father.”

“It is common sense that men do not belong in women’s only spaces,” Pillen said in a statement. “As Governor, it is my duty to protect our kids and women’s athletics, which means providing single-sex spaces for women’s sports, bathrooms, and changing rooms.”

An executive order does not carry the weight of a legislative act or judicial ruling, but it does provide guidance to agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Timothy Tesmer, the state’s chief medical officer, is charged with drafting rules and regulations regarding health care for trans youth following Legislative Bill 574 this spring.

Oklahoma became first state earlier this month

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt was the first to sign a “Women’s Bill of Rights” on Aug. 1, stating that Oklahomans were “fed up with attempts to confuse the word ‘woman’ and turn it into some kind of ambiguous definition that harms real women.”

Riley Gaines, at center, is joined by, from left, State Sens. Ben Hansen, Carolyn Bosn, Kathleen Kauth, Rob Clements, Tom Brewer, Loren Lippincott and Barry DeKay, on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, in La Vista. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Lawmakers in Kansas and Tennessee have also passed a Women’s Bill of Rights, drafted by Independent Women’s Voice and Independent Women’s Law Center with the Women’s Liberation Front.

Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer and adviser for Independent Women’s Voice, has led efforts to legislative participation in women’s sports and joined Stitt when he signed his order this month.

Gaines gained national attention following the 2022 NCAA championship in the 200 freestyle when she tied for fifth place with Lia Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer who was the first openly trans woman to compete in the women’s events. 

She has traveled the country and encouraged policymakers at all levels to address women’s sports, including Pillen and other Nebraskans during an Aug. 27 speech in La Vista. Gaines brought up Stitt’s order, and Pillen said he would look at a similar one right away.

Order could put certain funding in jeopardy

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, who fought back this spring against legislation that curbed minors’ access to gender-affirming care, said her initial concern is how Pillen’s order could impact Nebraska’s ability to receive federal funding.

Nebraska lawmakers watch the final vote for LB 574 on May 19. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Funding for domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, for example, has stipulations to protect trans survivors.

“I guess that Gov. Pillen probably hates the fact that trans people would ever be protected or safe anywhere in Nebraska, but that’s how it works today,” Hunt said. “And by putting this kind of messaging out, by making this part of his official policies and positions of his administration, he’s putting funding for those services in danger in Nebraska.

“This really rises above just a rhetorical argument or a discriminatory opinion that he has or his own personal bigotry,” Hunt continued.

Hunt said a loss of funding would hurt women and children who are not trans, including possible supporters of Pillen, “more than anybody else.”

Jane Seu, legal and policy counsel for the ACLU of Nebraska, said the organization is disappointed that Pillen has continued “to push a divisive and harmful agenda” singling out and attacking trans, nonbinary and intersex Nebraskans.

“We are reviewing this executive order and want every trans, nonbinary and intersex Nebraskan to know we will continue to fight for their belonging and inclusion,” Seu said in a statement.

Order would expire following state law

Pillen’s order requires that public schools or school districts and state agencies, departments or offices that collect demographic information identify individuals as either male or female at birth. 

State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Hunt said that whether trans people are counted, they’ll continue to exist in Nebraska.

Pillen’s order takes effect immediately and will expire only if a state law takes effect governing athletic participation on the basis of sex and prescribing situations when single-sex services or facilities should be provided. 

Legislative Bill 575, the “Sports and Spaces Act,” would define K-12 bathrooms, locker rooms and sporting teams as male or female based on sex at birth. That bill has not advanced from the Education Committee, but State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, the bill’s sponsor, said it will be her personal priority in 2024.

“I think it’s great!!” Kauth said in a text regarding Pillen’s order.

Correction: This story has been revised to correct the name of the Oklahoma governor.

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, double-majoring in journalism and political science. He has interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C., and has reported for the Nebraska News Service and The Daily Nebraskan.