Unisex bathrooms, women’s sports and abortion dominate NV ERA hearing

Nevada and other states rekindled the effort to amend the U.S. Constitution in recent years, but that effort has encountered roadblocks, including states that want to rescind earlier ratification, so states are acting on their own to change their state constitutions. (Getty Images)

“This bill is about equality. Period,” Sen. Patricia Spearman said in 2017, when Nevada became the first state in decades to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment, which declares “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

On Tuesday, Spearman uttered the same words — this time in support of a proposed equal rights amendment to the state constitution, that declares equal rights shall not be denied or abridged “on account of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin.”

“Those of us who were not born with the same rights as white men … we need to persist,” Spearman testified.  

Lawmakers approved the measure in 2019.  Should they do so again, voters will have a chance to weigh in on the 2022 ballot. 

Nevada voters overwhelmingly rejected a state ERA in 1978.  

At least 26 states have amended their constitutions. Measures have passed at least one house in three other states. 

The effort to amend the U.S. Constitution stalled during President Donald Trump’s administration, but a bi-partisan measure, Senate Joint Resolution 1, is reviving passage of the federal ERA.

“This is not a foregone topic of the past,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizarro, who sponsored the bill, said Tuesday during a hearing before the Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. Cannizaro argued the ERA would address disparities in pay, responsibilities for child care, and social issues rooted in gender, such as sexual harassment. 

Sexual harassment in the workplace happens frequently and silently,” she said. 

Nevada’s amendment, by including sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression, is “holistic” in that it embraces the “mind, body and spirit,” Cannizzaro testified.

But the holistic approach is lost on opponents who fear the amendment would pave the way for state-funded abortions, unisex bathrooms, and sound the death knell for female athletes they say will be forced to compete for scholarships with males who identify as women. 

“We’ve got all kinds of calls and emails about all sorts of different issues,” Sen. Heidi Severs Gansert noted. “Abortion, sports in general, bathrooms.”

Cannizzaro assured Severs Gansert, one of just a few Republicans to support the measure in 2019, that laws in place sufficiently govern those issues.  

“This would not affect the ability of women to play sports,” she said. “With respect to the argument that this will lead to funded abortions, again the plain language does not provide for that.”

But members of Nevada’s conservative activist groups held firm in opposition. 

“The plain language enshrines the words ‘gender identity and expression’ into the Nevada Constitution,” said Karin England of the Nevada Family Alliance. “Even California has not attempted such an extreme measure using those terms.”

“What does ‘equality under the law’ mean?” asked Janine Hansen of Nevada Families for Freedom, who wondered whether “those whose religions do not include lesbianism and homosexuality” will lose their religious freedom.  

“Will your child lose their right to privacy and be forced to share bathrooms?” Hansen asked. 

“Will girls’ sports be taken over by those claiming to be girls by identity?”

“We fight the political agenda of the LGBTQ,” said Geoffrey Knell of massresistance.org. “Hate is what evil is.” 

“This bill will allow this state to be destroyed,” said Knell, who characterized the bill as a “political move to move the LGBTQ agenda.  Have you ever talked to a former LGBTQ? It’s medically wrong.  It’s a lie and it’s intended to destroy this nation.” 

Yolanda Knaak complained the bill lacks “protections for pastors and people who work in various denominations who don’t believe in transgender and gay marriage. I think protections should be made for them.” 

“This is not a pro-woman bill.  This is an anti-woman bill,” testified Shawn Meehun. “We’re going to thank you for recruiting a whole new crop of women and their mothers to stand up…” 

“This is about equality —  equality for women,” lobbyist Marlene Lockhart testified in support of the measure on behalf of Nevada’s Women’s Lobby. “It continues to amaze me. What about equality for women scares so many, so much?”

Dana Gentry
Senior Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, a grandson, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.