LINCOLN–Nebraska Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha says she has the “dubious honor” of being the Legislature’s first openly LGBTQ senator, and she’s using her position to ensure she’s not the last.
Hunt has been a driving force behind multiple bills related to gender identity and sexual orientation in her three legislative sessions. During the current 107th Legislature, she has introduced six of these bills, some of which have been introduced several times before.
“I don’t think that we should be proud that it’s taken this long, but we cannot give up the fight, and we have to keep trying year after year until we get it done,” Hunt said. “I don’t know if it’s this year, or if that’s in 10 years, but it doesn’t mean we give up the fight.”
Hunt’s bills this session include LB231 which, if passed, would prohibit conversion therapy, following suit of the Lincoln City Council’s Feb. 22 vote to ban conversion therapy on youth. Hunt also introduced LB120 which would prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity.
Both bills were discussed at a Judiciary Committee meeting Feb. 26, where several proponents and opponents testified regarding LB120.
Proponent Ralph Kellogg shared his personal story of facing workplace discrimination at a Nebraska financial institution in the mid-2000s. He detailed how, after his employer discovered Kellogg was gay, Kellogg stopped receiving the accolades he had received beforehand.
“As someone who works in human resources and someone who listens to people all day long about what they look for in employment, they look for safety, they look for equality and they look for a place where they can grow and thrive,” Kellogg said in his testimony. “LGBTQIA people wanted to be treated fairly, without the crux of their identity or orientation being called into question.”
Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, spoke in opposition of LB120. He said the bill undermines the ability of employers to carry out their businesses in accordance with their mission, makes no attempt at adding religious liberty protections and raises a constitutional issue in treating speech itself as a public accommodation.
“LB120, unfortunately, goes beyond protecting against unjust discrimination,” he said in his testimony. “LB120 uses government coercion and punishment to force individuals … to affirm conduct and messages that conflict with their sincerely held moral or religious beliefs on marriage and human sexuality.”
Hunt said she has a good feeling about LB120, which has three other senators co-sponsoring it and 23 of the 25 votes needed for it to pass. Last year, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce endorsed the bill for the first time, and Hunt said the proposal has a lot of community support.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Bostock vs. Clayton County, which ruled LGBTQ individuals cannot be fired due to their sexual orientation, has made Hunt extra optimistic.
On the other hand, Hunt said LB231 might get out of committee, but she doesn’t think it will pass in this session.
Without inclusive and tolerant policies, Hunt said she is concerned about brain drain, where highly trained or knowledgeable people leave a region. If Nebraska wants to grow, she said it’s important for the state to embody its motto: equality before the law.
“It’s important to send a message that Nebraska is welcoming,” she said. “If you are not heterosexual or you’re gender non-conforming, this is a state where you can be successful, and you can put down roots and be a part of our community.”
Hunt has hope for her bills, as well the possibilities that come with a new governor in 2022. While she recognizes Nebraska’s room for growth, she said she doesn’t spend her time trying to deliberately change minds or make a point about what it means to be gay.
“The best thing I can do for gay equality in Nebraska is be myself and normalize being myself,” she said. “This is what LGBTQ people look like when they’re in leadership, and there’s nothing spicy or weird about it.”