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This is How You Do Genocide Prevention: The Fight for Trans Rights in Nebraska

May 1, 2023

This is How You Do Genocide Prevention: The Fight for Trans Rights in Nebraska

For the past nine weeks Senators Machaela Cavanaugh has been using the American tradition of the filibuster to block a vote on LB574. Senator Megan Hunt joined these efforts a few weeks later. In February, Senator Cavanaugh told the legislature: “If this legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful, painful for everyone,” she said. “I have nothing, nothing but time, and I am going to use all of it.” In March Cavanaugh likened the bill to genocide, saying “I'll just call a genocide the genocide. This is what it is. These bills are stepping stones in the eradication of trans Nebraskans. And voting for them is voting for a stepping stone in genocide. If you're uncomfortable with that, then you should reflect on that.” In response, Senator Julie Slama moved to censure her (a move that failed to be taken up in the legislature) for her use of the word “genocide.” Both Senators Cavanaugh and Hunt have faced personal attacks for their strong public stances against the bill. Megan Hunt has been the subject of a complaint by Omaha attorney David Begley, who charged her at the state’s Accountability and Disclosure Commission with a conflict of interest because she has a transgender son.

Under the terms of LB574, which was introduced by first-time Senator Kathleen Kauth, any physician who knowingly violates the bill’s provisions would be subject to review by the state’s medical licensing board. Any individual who received a gender-affirming procedure while under age 19 (the age of majority in Nebraska), or their parent or guardian, could bring a civil action against the physician within two years of discovery. The bill also would prohibit the distribution or use of state funds for any entity, organization, or individual that provides gender-affirming procedures for minors. It would further prohibit referrals to gender-affirming care. The provisions of LB574 would take effect on Oct. 1, 2023.[1] Gender-affirming health care can include puberty blockers, hormones, and surgery, which can be critical to the overall health of the transgender and gender diverse child.

The contents of this bill are in direct contradiction to the position of leading experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychiatric Association all support gender affirming care for youth. Additionally, threatening to penalize physicians for providing science-based care sets a worrisome precedent. Physicians play an important role in the health outcomes of transgender and gender diverse youth by offering a safe and inclusive place for them. Transgender and gender diverse youth have high rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance use, self-harm and suicide due to lack of social acceptance and widespread ignorance about their identity as well as hostility towards them. [2]

Senator Cavanaugh has rightly noted the discriminatory nature of LB574, as it targets a protected class of people. The bill does not keep teenage girls who identify as girls from getting breast reduction surgery, nor does it keep teen boys who identify as boys from having surgery to remove excess breast tissue. It only prevents these procedures for youth who identify as transgender.[3] While the data is limited, population-based surveys estimate that 0.7 percent of teens ages 13 to 17 identify as transgender, according to the report. [4] In Nebraska, that means fewer than 800 people in the state potentially fall into this category. [5] Gender-affirming care for transgender youth has been proven to increase quality of life and life outcomes for young people. In contrast to what some Republican legislators claim, gender-affirming care is an act of respect and love for these youths. Strong protocols exist at every stage of decision making to ensure that families, communities, schools, and doctors are making the right choices for each child.

The Lemkin Institute acknowledges that this effort in Nebraska is not unique. Anti-trans legislation has become a prominent rallying point for Republican lawmakers across the United States. The arguments in favor of such bills are ill-informed and based on hostile reactions to an identity group that legislators do not understand. Unfortunately, now that anti-trans ideology and anti-trans legislation have become such useful political tools, opportunities for honest and respectful dialogue across the aisle have lessened significantly. This is why the resistance of Machaela Cavanaugh and Megan Hunt are so important. By calling these laws what they are – genocidal in their intent to deny an identity and erase it from society – they have furthered the cause of genocide prevention in the United States in ways that many people may not recognize. We are reminded of Martin Buber’s words, “One gains power over an incubus by addressing it by its real name.”

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