Nebraska Lawmakers Take Fight Against Anti-LGBTQ+ Legislation Nationwide
Nebraska lawmakers who are fighting anti-transgender legislation are seeking to have an impact far beyond their state’s borders.
Sens. Machaela Cavanaugh, John Fredrickson, and Megan Hunt have formed a political action committee, Don’t Legislate Hate, to support pro-equality candidates for state legislatures around the nation.
Cavanaugh has made news with her filibuster against a bill seeking to ban gender-affirming health care for trans youth. She started it in late February, vowing to “burn the session to the ground over this bill.” That has meant hours of debate over every piece of legislation to keep the anti-trans measure from passing.
Hunt and Fredrickson, the first two out LGBTQ+ members of the legislature, were as appalled by the bill, LB 574, as Cavanaugh was. “We’ve never had a bill like this,” Hunt, a bisexual woman with a trans son, said in a recent interview with The Advocate. “We’ve never had a bathroom bill. We’ve never had anything attacking trans youth. … We just wanted to say, in Nebraska, it’s not going to happen this way.”
She and Fredrickson had been working behind the scenes with conservative lawmakers to fight the bill in Nebraska’s unicameral (one-chamber), officially nonpartisan legislature while Cavanaugh filibustered. But eventually they joined Cavanaugh’s filibuster, and the national attention and unsolicited donations it brought made them realize they needed to do more.
“We just thought we should put our heads together, and we should combine our resources and start a PAC so that we can bring hope to the LGBTQ+ community,” Hunt said. “We can let them know that someone is fighting for them.”
They are encouraging other legislators around the country to do the same, given that more than 450 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced at the state level this year.
“What’s been really fascinating to me is the amount of outreach we’ve gotten, both from Nebraskans and across the country,” Fredrickson, who is gay, said in the interview. “It was clear to me that the average Nebraskan doesn’t want this. It’s not a priority of theirs.” Nebraskans are far more interested in the economy, education policy, child care, affordable housing, and other practical issues, he said.
“We made it very clear in the legislative body that every single bill is going to be filibustered this year until this is off the table,” he added. He and his colleagues weren’t looking for national attention, he said, “but what has become clear is that it’s really inspired folks, and it’s really important to do this type of work, because frankly, it’s the right thing to do.”
Hunt, who was first elected in 2018, said she’s never put a lot of public emphasis on the fact that she has a trans child. “I just wanted my kid to be a kid and not put a spotlight on him,” she said. But now she’s realized, “I really have a unique platform and position to tell other parents of trans kids that I have their backs and also tell other Nebraskans who don’t have a trans person in their life that it’s normal. … There are trans people everywhere, and there always have been.”
Fredrickson, who was elected last year, said it’s important that he and Hunt have brought LGBTQ+ representation to the legislature. “It’s hard to hate up close,” he said, adding, “We fear what we don’t know.” They feel a great responsibility to put a face on the community, he noted.
Both said they didn’t have a lot of LGBTQ+ role models while growing up, Fredrickson in Omaha and Hunt in the small town of Blair, Neb. Fredrickson came out while attending college in New York City, where for the first time he saw queer people living joyful lives. Hunt said she was never really “in,” but she had to appeal to school administrators to bring a female date to her high school prom. So now she sees the need to normalize LGBTQ+ identity. “We’re actually just normal, just like everybody else,” she said.
Don’t Legislate Hate is just getting started and is still reviewing candidates, but its principals have heard from other organizations that are interested in partnering with it and candidates who want to be part of the process. “It’s already made a big splash,” Hunt said. “People are noticing what we’re doing, I think because it’s in a red state. It’s really important for people to see people standing up for LGBTQ equity and for trans rights in red states and conservative communities because we can show them it can be done. And also that hate-filled legislation like this — it’s not what even everyday Republicans want to do.”