trans rights

Nebraska Senator Goes Scorched-Earth to Defend Trans Youth

Machaela Cavanaugh Photo: Margery Beck/AP/Shutterstock

A bill that would deny gender-affirming care to trans kids has advanced in the Nebraska legislature, despite a three-week filibuster by a senator who vowed to “burn the session to the ground” rather than let the measure pass. According to the Associated Press, that lawmaker, Democrat Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, agreed to move the bill to the top of the agenda last week. She reportedly indicated she wanted the record to reflect which of her colleagues was prepared to, as she previously put it, “legislate hate against children.”

The legislation in question, LB574, would deny patients under the age of 19 access to gender-affirming treatments such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgery. LB574 is one of 150 anti-trans bills proposed in state legislatures so far this year, including another Nebraska bill (introduced by the same senator, Kathleen Kauth) that would bar trans athletes from using the locker rooms and playing on the sports teams that align with their gender identity. Cavanaugh began her filibuster efforts last month, when she got up to speak on a liquor-tax proposal and then ruminated at length on topics including Girl Scout cookies and Madagascar, the animated movie. She proceeded to spend her allotted eight hours of floor time filibustering every bill that came up for debate, with the result that the unicameral legislature has not passed anything this session. “I have nothing but time, and I am going to use all of it,” she reportedly told her fellow senators.

Last week, however, Cavanaugh and the legislature’s speaker, John Arch, reportedly came to a compromise. “Senator Cavanaugh and I have agreed, given the number of other very important issues to address in our time remaining this session, that LB574, Senator Kauth’s priority bill, should be scheduled for debate at the earliest date so we can have that debate and then proceed to other important legislation,” Arch said on March 16, according to Nebraska Public Media. While Cavanaugh reportedly hoped to block LB574 from ever coming up for discussion, she seemingly believed the bill would not pass. But a vote on March 23 suggested she may have been overly optimistic: A cloture motion — which ends debate and moves the body to vote on the bill in question — succeeded 33 to 16. Meanwhile, debate around the bill grew heated, with Republican supporters clinging to familiar, if ignorant, arguments: that children will come to regret a transition eventually, and that the treatments on offer lack the evidence to back them up.

That isn’t right, though. In survey after survey, trans people — children and adults alike — report that the ability to transition measurably improves their well-being and their lives. At the same time, major medical associations including but not limited to the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Endocrine Society all support gender-affirming care for youth. Last year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that among trans and nonbinary youth between the ages of 13 and 20, the odds of moderate to severe depression were 60 percent lower with treatments like hormones and puberty blockers. The odds of suicide dropped by 73 percent. All of this makes logical sense — people tend to be happier when they can be themselves — and yet lately, the misguided idea that kids are being rushed into transitioning treatments without adequate screening or oversight has gained traction. The truth is that gender-affirming care remains difficult to access, in terms of both affordability and simple availability. So while some Nebraska senators claimed that gender dysphoria “is just temporary,” per the AP, another lawmaker’s assessment came closer to the mark.

“This is fake. This has nothing to do with real life. This is all of you playing government,” Senator Megan Hunt, also of Omaha, said Thursday. Hunt has a teenage transgender son, according to the AP, and she pledged to join Cavanaugh in a renewed filibuster effort to block the bill’s advancement. (There are, apparently, still two more debates to clear before LB574 heads to the governor, who supports it.) “If this bill passes, all your bills are on the chopping block,” she said, “and the bridge is burned.”

Nebraska Senator Goes Scorched-Earth to Defend Trans Youth