Public hearing: many people oppose gender care regulations, some in favor

Nov. 28, 2023, 11 a.m. ·

LB574 hearing inside the Lancaster Event Center. The room is a big open conference room with hundreds of empty red chairs lined up in rows.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services hosts a public hearing about regulations and rules for LB 574 -- a bill passed in May 2023 that restrict gender care for people younger than 19. (Photo by Aaron Bonderson, Nebraska Public Media)

Updated 1:59 p.m. on Nov. 29, 2023

On Tuesday morning and early afternoon, at least 50 people voiced their concerns about Let Them Grow Act rules proposed by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

At least three people aired their support for the proposal. All of whom spoke after 2:30 p.m.. The hearing ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m..

The Let Them Grow Act was passed in May by the state unicameral. It bans abortion after 12 weeks of gestation and restricts gender care for Nebraskans younger than 19.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is required to write the specifications of the new law. Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Timothy Messner, wrote the draft and will write the permanent version.

Under the proposed code, parents would have to pick up puberty blocker medication for their kids.

On Tuesday, Heather Rhea said the drafted regulations accomplish one thing.

“Regulations continue to make receiving medical care more difficult and provide more barriers for trans youth and their families just for being transgender or non-binary,” Rhea said.

The drafted regulations say patients have to complete 40 hours of objective, gender-identity-focused therapy before being prescribed puberty blockers.

Carole Gushard said there are a lot of unanswered questions about this process.

“I have found that therapists are clinically objective and non-biased. As all therapy is confidential, how is the therapist to be evaluated?” Gushard asked.

Opponents estimate 40 hours of therapy would take at least 10 months. With many rural areas short on mental health professionals, challengers to the proposal say it will be difficult for trans youth in rural areas to receive medication and care they need.

According to the drafted regulations, mental health professionals are asked to determine — in addition to several other measures — “that gender nonconformity or gender dysphoria is driving the patient’s distress and not other mental or physical health conditions, that there is no reasonable expectation of natural resolution of gender nonconformity, and that there has been a long-lasting and intense pattern of gender nonconformity or gender dysphoria which began or worsened at the start of puberty.”

Nebraska Public Media News reached out to the Nebraska Medical Association for an interview about their thoughts on the proposed rules. President of NMA, Dr. John Trapp, said in an emailed statement that, "these regulations attempt to strike a balance between meeting the intent of the law while also allowing a pathway for minors to receive nonsurgical treatment if certain requirements are met."

Dr. Trapp continued, "while a pathway to care is presented for these youth, some of the requirements may present significant barriers to patients seeking to receive such care."

A total of 77 people shared oral testimony, according to DHHS spokesperson Jeff Powell. An estimated 475 written comments were delivered to DHHS yesterday or emailed ahead of time.

Powell said the next step is reviewing each of those comments.

“The most important thing is listening to the people of Nebraska and what they have to say and then evaluating those comments,” Powell said.

After that, Powell said there could be some slight changes to the regulations.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story included the wrong number of total oral comments at the hearing.