The Nebraska state Senate's 90-day legislative session reached its halfway point on Wednesday, but not a single bill has been passed yet thanks to a filibuster that was begun three weeks ago by state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh in a bid to stop Republicans from "legislating hate" against transgender children across the state.
Cavanaugh (D-6) was horrified to see an anti-transgender rights bill advance to the Senate floor in late February and was determined to keep it from passing into law, as at least nine other anti-LGBTQ+ bills have in state legislatures so far this year.
The so-called Let Them Grow Act (Legislative Bill 574) would bar transgender and nonbinary people under the age of 19 from obtaining gender-affirming healthcare.
Republicans hold 32 seats in the state Senate compared to Democrats' 17, but it takes 33 votes to overcome a filibuster.
"The children of Nebraska deserve to have somebody stand up and fight for them."
So Cavanaugh has spent every day in session since the bill arrived on the Senate floor introducing dozens of amendments to other pieces of legislation, slowing the Senate's business to a crawl and taking up every hour of debate time permitted by the chamber's rules—at times speaking at length about unrelated topics including her favorite foods and movies.
"If this Legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful, painful for everyone, because if you want to inflict pain upon our children, I am going to inflict pain upon this body," Cavanaugh told her colleagues during one debate session. "I have nothing, nothing but time, and I am going to use all of it."
"I will burn the session to the ground over this bill," she added.
The Let Them Grow Act, like a number of the approximately 150 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been introduced in other states so far this year, would prohibit gender-affirming surgical procedures, hormone therapy, and puberty blockers for minors.
Gender-affirming care for minors is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, with the latter organization noting in a 2018 policy statement that many transgender youths experience fear of discrimination by providers and "lack of continuity with providers" as a result of limited access to gender-affirming care.
A study by the University of Washington found that youths who received gender-affirming care were 73% less likely to experience suicidality and 60% likely to suffer from depression than those who did not obtain care.
Cavanaugh also told the Associated Press Wednesday that 58% of transgender and nonbinary youths in her state seriously considered suicide in 2020, according to a 2021 survey by the Trevor Project, and more than 1 in 5 said they had attempted suicide.
"The children of Nebraska deserve to have somebody stand up and fight for them," Cavanaugh told the AP.
Speaking to "The New Yorker Radio Hour" last week, the senator said some of her Republican colleagues have privately told her they are frustrated with their own party's agenda as GOP leaders including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump wage attacks on transgender children.
"What has been expressed to me is a frustration over discussing policies like this instead of discussing policies that most of them ran to be here discussing. This is what a culture war looks like apparently," said Cavanaugh. "What I'm asking of them is to rise up and say that, if this really isn't who they are, rise up and say that and stop having private conversations with me telling me how much you don't like the bill, how much you don't want to be focusing on this issue, and rise up and say something about it. I'm challenging them."
LGBTQ+ advocacy group OutNebraska told the AP that Cavanaugh has embarked on a "heroic effort."
"It is extremely meaningful when an ally does more than pay lip service to allyship," said executive director Abbi Swatsworth. "She really is leading this charge."