In the past four years that I have been at University of Nebraska at Omaha, one of the areas in which I’ve seen the most change is the school’s treatment of LGBT issues. New support agencies have been formed, new events have been hosted and even an entire course of study has been formed: the LGBTQ/Sexuality Studies minor was introduced last year.
In addition, the school has amped up support for transgender or nongender-conforming students with gender-neutral bathrooms and other facilities, including gender-neutral signage. In fact, compared to universities in the area, it seems like UNO has gone above and beyond in this regard, and students have testified to the improvement in the LGBT experience on campus.
It’s unfortunate that the rest of the city and state isn’t in sync with the university’s vision. As the Omaha Public Schools Board considers extending explicit protection to transgender students, those opposed to allowing children to pee in peace have come out of the woodwork.
This disparity was illustrated most obviously in the wake of President Obama’s directive that transgender students were under the protection of Title IX in their use of gendered bathrooms and locker rooms.
The state actually sued the President’s administration over the directive, filing in federal district court last month. The state’s Republican Party openly agitated against transgender citizens in their May convention, adopting a resolution to add a law to the books that would specifically prohibit transgender Nebraskans from using gendered spaces that didn’t match their assigned sex.
Such a law would be similar to a law passed by North Carolina, which was ultimately prevented from being enforced last week by a federal judge’s preliminary injunction, but not before it cost the state an estimated $77 million in investment and visitor spending due to various boycotts, according to North Carolina’s local Time Warner Cable News.
Nebraska’s politicians are perfectly willing to risk similar consequences for pursuing a similar law. State Senator Bill Kintner dismissed concerns about NCAA withdrawing the College World Series from Omaha as a result of such a measure, which would contradict the athletic organization’s inclusivity policy.
“Economic terrorism is not a reason to make laws,” Kintner said in the Omaha World-Herald. “The NCAA is a bunch of left-wing loonies.”
These politicians’ willingness to jeopardize key elements of the state and city’s culture, and tens of millions in economic gain, over an issue that has extremely little material impact, demonstrates where their priorities really lie. Rather than actually looking out for the wellbeing of Nebraskan citizens, these politicians have betrayed the fact that they are actually more concerned about appearing powerful, even at the expense of massive economic loss and hurt to transgender Nebraskans, than any practical concerns.
Indeed, beyond the dollars lost as a result of boycotts, such a bill could actually result in deaths.
After North Carolina’s bill was passed, calls to a transgender suicide prevention hotline doubled.
It’s easy for politicians like Kintner, who was revealed in the past few months to have had cybersex on a government computer and to have attempted to defraud a gas station of discounted car washes, to make a political stand on something that will not affect them or their buddies. But such politics result in significantly poorer conditions for many Nebraskans, and particularly those Nebraskans who happen to be transgender.
When the Omaha Public School board votes next month to decide whether to extend protection to transgender students, allowing them to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their own gender, they will face, as they did earlier this month at the preliminary vote, a storm of protest from those who will not be affected by the change, do not face discrimination for society for their gender expression and are interested only in impos-ing their ideological categories on children.
The school board should follow the lead of our university, instead of the state’s government, and extend protection to our most vulnerable citizens.