Nebraska recently adopted a new tourism tagline. A tagline so unusual it prompted a two minute riff from Stephen Colbert. Maybe you’ve seen it, “Nebraska, honestly it’s not for everyone.”
I happen to love Nebraska. It’s a beautiful state with a varied landscape and wide blue skies. I moved to Lincoln, Neb., to escape small-town Kansas and never left. I came out in Nebraska and never looked back — jumping into activism during Nebraska’s painful fight to block one of the nation’s first “defense of marriage” initiatives.
We didn’t win that fight — far from it. But we organizers celebrated one small victory — we won votes across the state. In every single county — even in the most rural, sparsely populated areas of the state — people voted against the amendment and for inclusion and love. The lesson — we are everywhere.
Pro-LGBTQ+ victories have been few and far between in Nebraska. For too many LGBTQ+ Nebraskans, the lack of progress on our issues meant the roll out of our new tagline only confirmed what they felt: Nebraska isn’t for them. Nebraska has never been top of mind when people think about states at the forefront of social change. But we’re a state brimming with good-hearted, hardworking people who believe in fairness.
In recent years, Nebraska has had no statewide organization fighting for fairness and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and our families. This week, that will change with the launch of OutNebraska. We know Nebraskans believe in treating each other as we’d treat ourselves, and in creating opportunities for our youth and families to thrive. We’ve got a lot of work to do to ensure our laws finally reflect the core values we hold as Midwesterners.
One of our top priorities will be to update our state laws to include nondiscrimination protections for all Nebraskans regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. No one living in our state, or any state, should be fired from their job, denied housing, kicked out of a restaurant, or denied health care simply for being who they are.
We also need to ensure that no child is subjected to the dangerous, discredited practice of so-called conversion therapy. We need legislation to restrict this practice right away, for the safety and wellbeing of all our children. Our children should also be protected from bullying and discrimination at school so that they can learn in a safe environment.
We may not yet have the flashy bells and whistles of large-scale organizations, but we have the grassroots grit and determination to put Nebraska on the map as a state that fully empowers and celebrates everyone. And, while our state scores very low on national equality index measures, I am confident that the people of Nebraska, whom I love with all my heart, will join us in educating lawmakers about the importance of updating the law so that all of Nebraska is honestly for all Nebraskans.
Inscribed on our state capitol are the words Equality Before the Law. OutNebraska is ready to organize our community and our allies to make sure those words ring true for LGBTQ+ Nebraskans across our beautiful state.
ABBI SWATSWORTH is the executive director of OutNebraska.