A Nebraska Bill to Ban Transgender Students from the Bathrooms and Sports of Their Choice Fails

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Apr 06, 2024

Protesters hold signs outside the doors of the legislative chamber in the Nebraska State Capitol in response to a bill that would have restricted students to bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams that correspond with the gender they were assigned at birth, on Friday, April 5, 2024, in Lincoln, Neb. The bill failed to advance Friday. (AP Photo/Margery Beck)


LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A bill that that would bar transgender students from school bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams that correspond with their gender identity failed Friday to get enough votes to advance in heavily conservative Nebraska.

Legislative Bill 575, dubbed the Sports and Spaces Act by its author Sen. Kathleen Kauth, would have restricted students to teams and facilities for the gender they were assigned at birth. An amended version would have gone a step further by barring students taking male hormones from girls’ teams, even if they were assigned female at birth, effectively excluding transgender males from all sports competition.

The bill needed 33 votes to end a filibuster and failed by a margin of 31 to 15, eliciting a cheer from protesters outside the chamber. Sens. Tom Brandt and Merv Riepe, who initially cosponsored the bill and had been expected to support it, abstained.

With only four days left in the legislative session, the bill is dead for the year.

Its sudden re-emergence this session temporarily threw the Legislature into turmoil. It had been stalled for more than a year before it was suddenly voted out of committee Thursday and scheduled for debate Friday.

Kauth touted the measure as protecting women’s sports, saying that allowing transgender women to play on women’s teams creates “a significant barrier for female athletes to compete in sports.”

She said there is “a significant sports performance gap between the sexes,” and “this bill protects sex inequity.”

The debate turned contentious early, with Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt calling out Kauth by name.

“This is not about protecting women,” said Hunt, who has been open about being bisexual. “It’s about the danger and the power of the imagination of a bigot, Sen. Kauth, and those who would support a bill like this.”

After another senator complained, she was asked by the Legislature’s presiding officer to refrain from casting aspersions on fellow lawmakers. That prompted Hunt to invite her colleagues to censure her.

“Do you know how hard it is to be a queer kid?” she asked. “You’re getting bullied. You’re getting beat up sometimes. And bills like LB575 just sanction that.”

Many Republican officials have sought to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans in recent years, including with policies like the sporting and bathroom restrictions contained in the Nebraska bill. The national push by conservatives has come as more younger people are identifying as LGBTQ+.

At least 24 states have laws barring transgender women and girls from competing in certain women’s or girls sports competitions, including five of the six states that border Nebraska: Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Eleven states including Iowa and Kansas have adopted laws barring transgender girls and women from girls’ and women’s bathrooms at public schools, and in some cases other government facilities.

The failure of Nebraska’s bill came as a surprise, given the dominance of Republicans over state government and the passage last year of its companion bill, also by Kauth, which banned gender-affirming surgery for anyone under 19 and greatly restricted gender-affirming medications and hormones for minors.

That measure passed after a 12-week abortion ban was attached to it, and it was signed by the governor. A lawsuit challenging the hybrid law is currently winding through the courts.

In Nebraska it takes a supermajority of 33 of the Legislature’s 49 members to end debate on a filibustered bill. The Legislature is officially nonpartisan, but lawmakers self-identify as Republican, Democrat or independent and tend to vote along party lines. Republicans hold 33 seats.

Sens. Brandt and Riepe, both Republicans, expressed doubt during debate Friday that a measure to restrict access to bathrooms and sports for transgender students was necessary. Brandt noted that the state’s high school athletics association already has a policy governing competition by transgender students.

Riepe said he had a change of heart after getting to know families with transgender members in his district. The bill, he said, was seeking to fix “a problem that does not exist.”

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