Wednesday, June 21, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Advocates in Nevada’s LGBTQ community are considering the 82nd legislative session as a decisive victory after lawmakers helped pass a slew of bills bolstering civil liberties when other states across the nation have restricted rights for transgender people — most notably trans youth.
Democratic lawmakers spearheaded the charge to draft and advance LGBTQ legislation ultimately signed into law by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, including: setting care standards for transgender inmates for state-run prison facilities, allowing teens to access preventive care for sexually transmitted infections, protecting access to gender-affirming care, and more.
“From a public health perspective, the LGBTQ community was at the forefront this session,” state Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas, said alongside state Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, and advocates at an event hosted by Silver State Equality recapping the session Tuesday at the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada in downtown Las Vegas.
“These things affect not only the LGBTQ community, but our community as a whole,” Harris continued. “It’s just one example of the benefits diversifying the legislature can bring for the public as a whole.”
Of three bills touted by Harris, Senate Bill 211, which allows people to amend their marriage license using their new chosen name, came to fruition after a constituent reached out to her office. That constituent wanted to take their so-called “dead name” off their Clark County-issued marriage license but was unable because such documents could only be modified if they contained a misspelling.
“It shouldn’t be easier to get your name changed on your birth certificate than your marriage license,” said Harris, who is openly gay. “So we made sure we addressed that.”
Harris also praised the passing of SB 172 and SB 439, which her and colleagues began crafting after the 2021 session with the help of former Gov. Steve Sisolak’s administration.
SB 172 authorizes minors to access examinations or treatments for STIs and contraception as long as they give prior consent to a physician assistant or registered nurse, while SB 439 requires health agencies in the state to develop policies to provide uninterrupted services for HIV treatment in the event of a public health emergency.
SB 439, which Harris dubbed her “omnibus” HIV modernization bill, also requires prison operators to ensure access to treatment for inmates with HIV, and mandates that medical insurance cover testing, treatment and preventive measures against STIs. It further requires insurers to cover lab and diagnosis procedures and drugs aimed to prevent the acquisition of HIV.
Scheible, who is also openly LGBTQ, championed the passing of SB 163, which prohibits medical insurers from discriminating on the grounds of gender identity or gender expression.
“I love this bill with all my heart, and we worked incredibly hard to make sure that the language was exactly where we wanted to be and exactly where it needed to be in order to pass both houses and get signed by the governor,” Scheible said. “If an insurance company provides a certain kind of care, if they cover something on their plan for people who are cisgender, they cannot deny coverage of that same procedure, or treatment or even surgery to someone who is trans, or nonbinary or gender-nonconforming.”
The bill also requires insurers to cover “medically necessary” care, which can mean gender-affirming care if the patient and doctor both agree it would result in better health outcomes.
“This is kind of where the rubber meets the road, in terms of the language of the bill,” Scheible said. “When it comes to your gender-affirming care, if you and your medical team determine that this is something medically necessary for you, your insurance company can’t deny the claim simply because it is gender-affirming care.”
Despite those legislative wins, Harris and Scheible lamented Lombardo’s veto of SB 302, which sought to shield providers of gender-affirming care to minors from legal prosecution by states where such care has been restricted. There are 20 states that have banned gender-affirming care for minors, and seven others are considering bans, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
In his veto message, dated June 3, Lombardo wrote that SB 302 “inhibits the executive branch’s ability to be certain that all gender-affirming care related to minors comports with state law. It also decreases the executive branch’s authority to ensure the highest public health and child safety standards for Nevadans.”
Late last month, Lombardo signed SB 131, which similarly protects doctors and out-of-state abortion patients from legal action by states that have outlawed the procedure. Harris and Scheible on Tuesday both maintained that the intent of SB 302 was to protect actions that remain legal within state boundaries.
“I think we are kind of living in an upside-down world where states think that they can control what people do outside their borders,” said Scheible, who is an attorney. “So what we did at the Nevada Legislature was introduce a couple of bills that were going to fight fire with fire.”
Scheible continued: “The fact it has been vetoed, to me, doesn’t mean that we can’t still provide gender-affirming care for every person in Nevada, and it doesn’t mean that those laws in other states that are trying to criminalize it will actually be effective. It does, however, leave open that possibility. So I think that it’s very likely that we revisit this in future sessions. But I will also be delighted if we didn’t have to. … Hopefully, by 2025, we’re not having this debate anymore.”
Nevada has no restriction on accessing gender-affirming care, while states such as Oklahoma, Texas and South Carolina — all of which have banned it for minors — are considering further legislation that would up the age to receive such care to 26.
“When we see these attacks at a national level — we see states like Florida, Alabama, (South) Carolina, Utah, Arkansas, Montana — where we see all of them being so overtly anti-trans, we’re now seeing this huge migration from those states to the state of Nevada,” said Sy Bernabei, executive director of Gender Justice Nevada. “And it’s a good thing for Nevada, it’s good for our economy, it’s good for our community. That’s good for everybody.”
Bernabei, who identifies as queer, transmasculine and nonbinary, said even before this session that Nevada for decades has been a leader in expanding rights for the LGBTQ community, from outlawing sodomy laws in the early 1990s to public accommodations for gender-divergent individuals in 2011 — a trend that, perhaps one day, will ripple throughout the U.S.
“Even though we live in a little bit of a bubble while we’re there, I know that what happens in Carson (City) is staying in Carson,” Scheible said. “I hope that nationally, we will be recognized for the great work that we got done.”