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NE Senator Will Keep Filibustering Even After Anti-Trans Legislation Advances

Democratic State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh chided GOP lawmakers for "just reading debunked medical studies" on the issue.

The Nebraska State Capitol, located in Lincoln, Nebraska.

A bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth in Nebraska was able to advance in the state legislature on Thursday, in spite of filibusters by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh (D) slowing down all business since the start of the legislative session.

Cavanaugh has promised to filibuster every bill that reaches the floor of the state Senate, regardless of its contents (and including legislation she personally supports), until Republicans remove from consideration a proposal that would restrict care for transgender children and teens in the state. For four weeks, she has kept her promise, and no bill has passed during the session so far.

The anti-trans bill was able to pass on Thursday because of Nebraska’s filibuster rules, and because one Democratic lawmaker in the unicameral legislature — Sen. Mike McDonnell — broke ranks and voted with Republicans for cloture.

Nebraska’s Senate rules dictate that filibusters can only last up to eight hours before a cloture vote. On each occasion up until Thursday, Democrats have blocked cloture efforts. But McDonnell voted with Republicans to end debate on the anti-trans bill, and to advance it to the next round of debate.

The bill still needs to pass two more rounds before it can undergo a full vote in the Republican-controlled legislature. But with McDonnell’s action on Thursday, it appears that votes in the near future will be successful after other eight-hour filibusters come to an end.

Even if that happens — and if the bill is eventually signed into law by Gov. Jim Pillen (R), who has signaled that he will do so — Cavanaugh and other Democrats have promised to continue filibustering other bills.

“If this legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful; painful for everyone,” Cavanaugh said weeks ago, at the beginning of the legislative session. “Because if you want to inflict pain upon our children, I am going to inflict pain upon this body.”

Earlier this week, Cavanaugh told Rolling Stone that her Republican colleagues aren’t using facts to justify their support of the legislation, and that they’re “just reading debunked medical studies and things that they’ve Googled.”

She added:

There’s no substantive conversation about the legislation itself, and the policy itself, and the practicality of how it works. There’s no substantive conversation over the concerns of the medical community writ large in the state of Nebraska.

Democratic Sen. Megan Hunt said she would join with Cavanaugh to filibuster the remaining bills in the legislative session, in protest of the anti-trans bill that advanced on Thursday. Hunt noted that the action was personal for her, as she has a transgender son.

“If this bill passes, all your bills are on the chopping block, and the bridge is burned,” Hunt said. “I’m not doing anything for you. Because this is fake. This has nothing to do with real life. This is all of you playing government.”

At least two other Democrats, Sens. Jen Day and Danielle Conrad, have said they would join in the filibuster movement.

The bill in question would ban gender-affirming care for people in the state under the age of 19, which means it will ban such care for many transgender adults.

Studies show that very few people who transition regret their decision to do so. A 2021 review of 27 studies on the subject, examining around 8,000 transgender teens and adults mostly in Europe, the United States and Canada, found that only about 1 percent of people who began or completed gender-affirming care treatments regretted their action. An even smaller number chose to “detransition,” or revert back to the gender they were assigned at birth, as some in those studies revealed that their feeling of regret was only temporary.

Medical experts widely agree that gender-affirming care can be life-saving — and that the risks associated with transgender youth not having access to gender-affirming care are far worse than the slim possibility that they will regret receiving that care.

Several studies confirm that gender-affirming care in all of its forms is not only safe for trans teens, but also immensely beneficial. In a study that was published in Pediatrics in 2020, gender-affirming care for young transgender people was directly associated with lower odds of suicide ideation throughout their lifetimes. Another study from the Williams Institute at UCLA found that transgender teens are much less likely to attempt suicide after receiving gender-affirming care. And a study published last year found that trans or nonbinary youth between the ages of 13 to 20 who receive gender-affirming treatment were 60 percent less likely to experience moderate or severe depression than trans youth who don’t receive such treatment.

Nebraska state Sen. John Fredrickson (D), who has also backed Cavanaugh’s filibusters, read a letter from a constituent on the Senate floor this week who said their transgender son would have likely died by suicide had he not been able to receive gender-affirming care.

Fredrickson, who is gay, said that the fight against the bill wouldn’t end in the state legislature.

“To my LGBTQ family … regardless of what happens today, heads up. Chins up. We’re survivors,” he said.

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