Restrictions on trans athletes blocked by filibuster

April 5, 2024, 4 p.m. ·

Senator Kathleen Kauth, in red, speaks on her bill as Sen. Megan Hunt, in black, listens (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Senator Kathleen Kauth, in red, speaks on her bill as Sen. Megan Hunt, in black, listens (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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A proposal to restrict transgender student athletes to the teams, locker rooms and bathrooms of their biological sex at birth was blocked by a filibuster Friday in the Nebraska Legislature.

Sen. Kathleen Kauth was lead sponsor of LB575, the bill to restrict transgender athletes in Nebraska’s K-12 schools. Kauth led off debate describing her goals.

“We need to put these protections into law so that girls are not forced to compete against boys, so that boys and girls are not forced to share the intimate space of a locker room or bathroom,” Kauth said.

Sen. Megan Hunt described it differently.

“The point of LB575 is discrimination. The discrimination and the hate and the bigotry is the whole point. It is not about protecting women. It's not about keeping women out of harm's way. It's about the danger and the power of the imagination of a bigot: Senator Kathleen Kauth,” Hunt said.

When Sen. Loren Lippincott objected to Hunt’s language, Lt. Gov. Joe Kelly, presiding over the debate, told Hunt to stick to the subject of the bill.

Supporting the bill, Sen. Dave Murman said it reflected public sentiment.

“The Gallup 2023 poll found that 70% of US adults say transgender athletes should be allowed to compete only on sports teams that correspond with the sexes they were assigned at birth. Not only that, but this number was 8% higher than when they conducted the poll in 2021. So the movement to protect women's sports is not only widely supported, but the support is growing,” Murman said.

Opposing it, Sen. Anna Wishart said it applied to very few people.

“We are talking about a population of people that is 1% or less in our state who are transgender. And an even smaller percentage of those individuals are involved in K-12 sports,” Wishart said.

Opponents also argued the Nebraska School Activities Association, or NSAA, already has a policy, including evaluations by doctors and mental health professionals, to determine transgender athletes’ eligibility. They said fewer than 10 students have used that policy since 2015.

But supporters said eligibility decisions are ultimately up to the schools, raising the possibility of conflicting standards. Sen. Brian Hardin said the goal is to prevent future problems.

“The challenge was made earlier this week to give examples of where biological males are competing in female sports in Nebraska. To my knowledge that's not happening in District 48. But you don't close the gate after the cattle are out,” Hardin said.

Sen. John Fredrickson, who’s gay, linked the bill to national efforts to demonize LGBTQ people.

“LB575 does not solve any issues. At best, it makes a handful of adults who know very little about my community feel good about themselves, and a whole bunch of kids, regardless of how they identify, feel like crap,” Fredrickson said.

Kauth said she wasn’t trying to keep anyone from participating in sports.

“Kids who are identifying as trans still have the same opportunity to compete as everybody else. But they need to do so on the on the same terms as everyone else, as members of their biological sex,” she said.

The debate took place on the 56th day of the 60-day legislative session, with major decisions on other issues still pending. Sen. Wendy DeBoer questioned why the bill was even being considered.

“Why on earth is the Nebraska Legislature making rules about kids sports? Why are we involved in this conversation at all at the Nebraska Legislature? We are taking our time, which we have heard is very limited, and our intellectual labor and working on this issue instead of trying to figure out how to get property tax relief,” DeBoer said.

After four hours, Kauth moved to cut off debate and vote, which requires 33 votes. She got 31. (To see how each senator voted, click here).Two senators who originally cosponsored the bill, Merv Riepe and Tom Brandt, did not vote. Riepe said the NSAA policy is sufficient, and Brandt questioned if the bill was enforceable.

The Legislature then adjourned for a three day weekend, and will resume work on Tuesday.