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News Brief

Jan. 8, 2024 |  By: Deborah Van Fleet - Public News Service

OutNebraska advocates for LGBTQ+ at NE Capitol, statewide


By Deborah Van Fleet - Public News Service

With the start of the Nebraska Unicameral's 2024 session this week, guarding against the divisiveness experienced last session is top of mind for many.

Bills limiting gender-affirming care for minors and restricting abortion rights led to an acrimonious 2023 session. Considerable support was shown for transgender youths and their families, however, in part because of the work of OutNebraska. The nonprofit's focus is supporting and "uplifting the voices" of LGBTQ+ Nebraskans.

Abbi Swatsworth, executive director of the group, said advocacy is a core part of its mission and they will definitely have a "presence" at the Unicameral again this year.

"Because everyone deserves a voice in the policymaking process," Swatsworth pointed out. "For so long there was very little representation of LGBTQ people in those spaces."

In a 2022 survey of LGBTQ+ adults by the Center for American Progress, half the respondents reported having experienced discrimination in the workplace related to their identity and a third reported discrimination involving housing over the previous year.

Swatsworth noted for another of its missions, education, last year OutNebraska reached more than 1,400 people with educational sessions on ways to improve the workplace, including entities as varied as nonprofits, large banks and agricultural organizations.

Unlike at least twenty states, Nebraska has no statutes expressly prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Swatsworth pointed out although OutNebraska does not provide legal representation, it is "definitely about linkage to resources."

"We have assisted people with contacting the Nebraska Equal Opportunities Commission," Swatsworth outlined. "Or perhaps reaching out to ACLU of Nebraska, or the Lincoln Human Rights Commission, or similar kinds of commissions in their municipal areas."

Swatsworth explained supporting Nebraska Pride celebrations is a large part of another of OutNebraska's missions, celebration. She believes the growing number of them -- with twelve across the state in 2023 -- shows OutNebraska's advocacy and education are having an effect.

"I think just the fact that there is an organization making our presence known at the Capitol and in policy spaces really helps people feel seen," Swatsworth stressed. "They can be more visible in their home community."

No new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been introduced for the 2024 session. But a priority bill by Sen. Kathleen Kauth, R-Millard, Legislative Bill 575, would restrict transgender youths' participation in school sports and use of restroom facilities. Swatsworth added it is one of several bills carried over which have "the potential to harm the LGBTQ+ community." OutNebraska's 2024 LGBTQ+ Legislative Day will be held Feb. 12.