Personal, policy arguments highlight debate on transgender treatment for youth

March 22, 2023, midnight ·

Senator Megan Hunt during debate Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Senator Megan Hunt during debate Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Personal stories mixed with policy discussion in the Nebraska Legislature Wednesday, as senators continued to debate a proposed ban on gender transitioning surgery and medical treatment for young people.

Sen. Kathleen Kauth is the lead sponsor of the bill that would prohibit people under age 19 from getting surgery or drugs to help change from one gender to another. Kauth compared a young person seeking such help to someone with an eating disorder.

“If you had a child who was suffering from anorexia nervosa… but truly and deeply believed that they were obese, and came to a doctor and said, ‘If I don't get liposuction and diet pills or thin, then I'm going to kill myself. I have to be the person I want to be and that is thin,’ the doctor would be practicing malpractice if they gave them what they wanted, if they said ‘You're right, you're a little chubby. Let's get you signed up for some surgery’... We're talking about people who are not seeing themselves accurately,” Kauth said.

Sen. Rob Clements, supporting Kauth’s bill, said Nebraska already restricts many activities for young people.

“Drinking is age 21. We restrict minors from smoking, gambling, tattoos, tanning beds, those are restricted for minors. The purpose here is to allow the children to mature before life-changing procedures are done. And I think it's reasonable to also have this bill do this similar item to protect those aged 18 and younger,” Clements said.

Opposing the bill, Sen. John Fredrickson, a clinical social worker, said there are already safeguards in place.

“There's this misconception that these kids are out there making these choices by themselves. That's not the case. No gender care-related services are provided to patients under 19 without parental consent,” Fredrickson said.

Sen. Megan Hunt, also opposing the bill, called it a personal affront. Hunt talked about having a 12-year-old transgender son, a fact she has not previously talked about in legislative debate.

“But I was so happy to learn that I had a son, and that my child was growing up and revealing himself to me as he is, and that he felt comfortable and safe doing that knowing that he wouldn't be kicked out of his home. That he would be supported and loved by his family. And whatever the future holds for him -- whatever gender expression he wants to have -- I don't care. Like, I want to have a happy, healthy son. And that is the way every parent of trans youth feels,” Hunt said.

Hunt added that her son has not been able to get puberty blockers because insurance would not pay for them.

Several senators mentioned that mainstream organizations including the Nebraska and American Medical Associations support gender-affirming care and oppose the proposed ban.

But Sen. John Lowe said two doctors from his hometown of Kearney had written to him saying those organizations have a financial motive.

“They are wholly owned by the Big Pharma. Every portion of the medical-industrial complex is making bank on transforming kids, and gleefully turning them into lifelong patients,” Lowe said.

Sen. Danielle Conrad, opposing the bill, urged colleagues who have privately opposed the bill to take a stand against what she called hateful, divisive legislation.

“Find an opportunity to move Nebraska forward instead of dragging it into a national muck of hate and harm and divisiveness. Listen to your intellect, listen to your heart. Listen to your constituents, listen to your colleagues, and honor your conscience. It's simple. Have you any decency, my colleagues? I know that you do and I expect to see it on display,” Conrad said.

Sen. Myron Dorn, a cosponsor of the bill, predicted the issue is not going to go away.

“Let's look out three or four years. Where will this be at? Will we be having this the same discussion in multiple years from now in this body? Those are good questions to think about. Just because this bill doesn't pass, or passes tomorrow, I do not see it as the end of the conversation. We're gonna start to have more discussion, more interest on this subject,” Dorn said.

A cloture vote, the procedural move to end debate and vote on the bill itself, is expected Thursday. Speaker John Arch has indicated if a bill fails to get the 33 votes needed for cloture, it will be taken off the agenda for the rest of the year.

Note: You can see video highlights of Wednesday's debate from Sen. Megan Hunt and Sen. Steve Halloran on the Nebraska Public Media News Facebook page or on Twitter @NebPubMediaNews.