Heroic lawmaker in the midst of weeks-long filibuster to stop anti-trans bill

Machaela Cavanaugh
Machaela Cavanaugh Photo: Nebraska Legislature

A Nebraska state senator is three weeks in to a filibuster to prevent an anti-trans bill from passing.

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh (D) is determined to stop a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth. When the bill advanced out of committee, she vowed to filibuster every bill proposed in the unicameral legislature this year until the anti-trans bill is off the table.

“If this Legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful — painful for everyone,” she said when it all began. “If you want to inflict pain upon our children, I am going to inflict pain upon this body, and I have nothing but time, and I am going to use all of it.” 

“I will burn the session to the ground over this bill.”

And so far, she has. Halfway through the legislative session, Cavanaugh’s actions have resulted in zero bills passing. The mother of three didn’t even stop when she had strep throat.

“I’m just going to practically make sure that my colleagues have to make a choice about what it is they want to do, what our job is,” Cavanaugh told Rachel Maddow in an interview on MSNBC. “Is our job to legislate hate, or is our job to govern and work on tax cuts and work on the economy? So I’m forcing their hand.”

“I don’t care how sick I get. I don’t care how tired I am. I am not going to look back on this moment in time and say I didn’t do everything that I possibly could to fight for and protect children, especially our most vulnerable children, which are trans youth.”

It would take 33 votes to end Cavanaugh’s filibuster, and there are 32 Republicans in the Nebraska legislature.

Trans activist Erin Reed called Cavanaugh “a hero” for her efforts and called out Nebraska Republicans for not responding.

“Republicans in Nebraska are going to let the senate stay shut down because they just can’t go without hurting trans kids,” Reed said. “Senator Cavanaugh’s 3 week filibuster has been INSPIRATIONAL.”

Abbi Swatsworth, executive director of LGBTQ+ organization OutNebraska, also called Cavanaugh’s filibuster “heroic,” telling the Associated Press that “it is extremely meaningful when an ally does more than pay lip service to allyship. She really is leading this charge.”

The anti-trans bill was introduced by state Sen. Kathleen Kauth (R), who claimed Cavanaugh won’t “acknowledge the support I have for this bill” and that “we should be allowed to debate this.”

Kauth has supported a method called “watchful waiting,” claiming that kids with gender dysphoria will simply stop having dysphoria if no action is taken to affirm their gender. Kauth claimed trans kids “need therapy to deal with the coexisting mental and emotional struggles they are experiencing — not irreversible, harmful, and experimental medical procedures.”

In reality, every major medical organization supports gender-affirming care for both minors and adults, and studies have shown it improves mental health and lowers suicide risk.

Cavanaugh maintains that Kauth’s bill is “legislating hate. It is legislating meanness. The children of Nebraska deserve to have somebody stand up and fight for them.”

 “I know it’s frustrating,” she said, referring to the disruption she’s causing to the legislative session. “It’s frustrating for me. But there is a way to put an end to — just put a stop to this hateful bill.”

Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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