Sy Bernabei, the executive director of Gender Justice Nevada, speaks at Trans Day of Visibility rally in March. (Photo: Michael Lyle)
While Republican-led legislatures across the country have advanced an unprecedented amount of anti-LGBTQ legislation this year, Nevada is considering several bills protecting the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming communities.
Sy Bernabei, the executive director of Gender Justice Nevada, said organizers went to Carson City in April for LGBTQ Equality Day in order to speak with lawmakers about the bills in hopes of pushing them over the finish line.
Bernabei said it was important for trans and gender nonconforming folks to be in the building and make their presence known.
“That was the first time I can remember having so many trans folks,” Bernabei said. “Years before, it would be gay activists talking about marriage equality and employment protections. Now we have trans folks up there and calling in to provide testimony.”
Several measures are on track to pass both houses.
There is no cause for celebration yet, said Frankie Perez, the LGBTQ Justice Organizer with Make the Road Nevada.
Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo hasn’t indicated whether or not he supports any of the bills, and not knowing how he’ll act has created anxiety for the trans community, Perez said.
Community members, he added, were initially optimistic as bills advancing trans rights received a majority of votes.
But that hope began to dissipate once Lombardo vetoed three gun control bills, including one prohibiting people convicted of a hate crime from possessing a firearm.
“People are on edge about these bills passing and going to his desk,” Perez said. “It’s sad people can’t even celebrate when these bills are passing because now we are fearful as they head to his desk.”
Lombardo’s office didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment.
In addition to the Nevada Republican Party being opposed to every proposal, national Republican figures, including former Pres. Donald Trump, who endorsed Lombardo in the primary for governor, have ramped up anti-trans rhetoric and called for stronger national restrictions.
Many in the community aren’t sure how this will influence Lombardo’s final decisions.
“You can do all of this work and give all of this testimony and it can be a really great bill, but then it goes to the governor and gets vetoed,” Bernabei said. “That’s really frustrating.”
Perez said it would be equally disappointing and frustrating if Lombardo vetoed the bills without attempting to hear from the trans community.
“Folks can go ahead and try to legislate, erase, minimize or hold back protections and policies,” Perez said. “At the end of the day, we will never stop existing. We will always exist. No piece of legislation can erase us. We will continue to keep fighting if that’s what we need to do. “
‘What’s the cost of discrimination?’
The Human Rights Campaign estimates there have been more than 520 anti-LGBTQ bills, including 220 targeting transgender and gender non-binary people, introduced in state legislatures across the country this year alone.
As of this week, the group says 70 have been enacted that ban access to gender affirming care for trans youth, target drag performances, allow students to be misgendered, and censors curriculum with any mentions of LGBTQ people.
Nevada on the other hand has introduced several bills expanding protections for transgender and gender nonconforming people, which are expected to pass both houses.
Senate Bill 153, the first measure to pass, requires the Nevada Department of Corrections to set up regulations around housing, custody, medical care and mental health treatment for trans and gender nonbinary treatment of people incarcerated in Nevada’s prison system.
SB 153 passed the assembly in a party line vote 28-14 on Tuesday.
The bill passed out of the Senate 15 to 5 on April 17 with Republican Sens. Carrie Buck and Lisa Krasner joining Democrats. Democratic State Sen. Roberta Lange was excused.
Bernebai said not having consistent regulations could violate inmates’ constitutional rights and open the state up to lawsuits, which Bernabei speculated may have been a factor in the bill receiving some Republican support.
“Nevada is one of the more progressive states and we do have quite a few protections but to be in the building and hear and see certain looks and rhetoric that are very anti trans, it was a huge wake up call.” – Frankie Perez, Make the Road Nevada
“Nevada is one of the more progressive states and we do have quite a few protections but to be in the building and hear and see certain looks and rhetoric that are very anti trans, it was a huge wake up call.”
– Frankie Perez, Make the Road Nevada
Democratic state Sen. Melanie Scheible, the bill’s sponsor, carried similar legislation in 2021, but it failed to advance due to a fiscal note.
The Department of Corrections, which testified in neutral of the legislation, would ultimately write a regulation outlining those standards, which would then need to be approved by the Board of Prison Commissioners, whose members include Lombardo, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar.
Scheible also brought back legislation to prevent insurance companies from discriminating based on someone’s gender identity.
“(The bill) ensures everybody on each plan gets treated equally and … coverage for whatever procedures, therapies, services that are provided on that plan are provided to everyone regardless of their gender identity or expression,” she said.
Senate Bill 163, which is declared exempt from deadlines, was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services attached a fiscal note estimating the bill, if implemented, would cost $2.5 million over the biennium.
“Current data indicates 783 individuals enrolled in Nevada Medicaid would be eligible for these services and that no more than 20% of these individuals would utilize at least one of these services,” the note explains.
Brooke Maylath, who has been working with Scheible to pass the legislation, told lawmakers Tuesday the fiscal note was a worst case scenario and expected the cost to be much less.
Maylath added that insurance company refusal to cover medically necessary treatments can lead to lawsuits, a risk that could also face the state if Medicaid discriminates against patients.
“What’s the cost of discrimination?” Maylath asked. “We can pay a few hundred thousand dollars in the budget or we can pay a huge amount in penalties.”
Like most legislation expanding protections, SB 163 was opposed by conservative groups who repeated anti-trans talking points and falsely claimed the bill would allow minors to receive surgery.
Scheible pushed back on the misinformation.
“This bill does nothing to change the types of care available to children and the types of parental notification and parental consent that is needed for a child to receive any type of medical care in the state of Nevada,” she said.
More legislatures around the country have been enacting measures targeting medical providers who offer trans and gender-nonconforming care.
As a response, Senate Bill 302 would prevent the governor from surrendering a person charged with a criminal violation in another state for receiving gender-affirming services in Nevada.
The bill also seeks to prohibit health care licensing boards from disqualifying or disciplining a provider who gave gender-affirming services.
“Removing gender affirming health care access for transgender and nonbinary Americans has been the focus of multiple lawmaking bodies across the United States, especially in the last 12 months,” Democratic state Sen. James Ohrenschall, the bill’s sponsor, said during a floor speech in April. “Nevada has a chance to take a stand for what is right.”
He said the bill will help address “the increasingly grave environment presented by state governments across the country that seek to remove access to gender affirming health care.”
“Imagine if you went to see your doctor or health care provider for you and your family and recommendations were given in line with the American Medical Association … but then a state legislature says you’re now committing a criminal offense or now committing abuse or neglect,” he said.
SB 302 passed out of the Assembly, the bill’s final house, Thursday with all Republicans opposed. It is now headed to Lombardo’s desk.
On Monday, lawmakers also amended Assembly Bill 423, which originally placed restrictions on school boards hearing items put on the agenda after 11:59 p.m. on the day of the meeting, adding a provision that prevents school trustees from adopting policies that discriminate based on gender identity or sexual expression.
The addition comes after Douglas County proposed restricting trans students from sports and bathrooms.
The legislation unanimously passed the Assembly in April prior to the amendment.
‘You’re going to see us’
It’s not always safe for people to be openly queer or trans, Bernabei said.
As anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and attacks on the trans community have ramped up, so has the realization from many organizers about the importance of lobbying for legislation and being politically active, Bernabei said.
“One of the responses from our community is knowing we can no longer stay safe or comfortable no matter if we’re openly trans or not,” they said.
Members of Gender Justice Nevada, Silver State Equality, the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada and the Human Rights Campaign Nevada chapter took part in the Equality Day in April.
Bernabei said it was an opportunity for trans and gender nonconforming folks to introduce themselves to Republican lawmakers.
“People who are in power, who have a lot of power over your life, are directly attacking you without even seeking out a discussion,” Bernabei said. “These lawmakers, Republican lawmakers, aren’t talking to the trans community. They are just attacking without any context. Their attacks are loaded with misinformation. I think that’s why they don’t want to have a discussion. It might open the door for them to learn.”
For Perez, it was the first time lobbying in Carson City. At the very least, he said it was important for lawmakers to recognize the trans community as part of Nevada.
They are still constituents.
“I felt myself being a little extra flamboyant,” Perez said. “You’re going to see us. You’re going to hear us.”
The experience, he said, was both “very empowering and affirming and also kind of scary.”
“Nevada is one of the more progressive states and we do have quite a few protections but to be in the building and hear and see certain looks and rhetoric that are very anti trans, it was a huge wake up call,” he said. “As much as we have a lot of great protections, that could change very quickly depending on who is governor.”
Even if they don’t know the fate of the bills – Bernabei said if Lombardo decided to do nothing and let the bills automatically become law it would be a huge win – having trans and gender nonconforming folks in the building was progress.
Bernabei said it’s all about making headway.
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