Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.

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Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News”, where we fill you in on what’s been going on in Lincoln this week. I am the KZUM News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman

Grant Ferrell, News Intern: And I’m your co-host, Grant Ferrell.

Last week we began a two-part series on the Disability Rights of Nebraska’s recently released report “Second Class During the Pandemic.” The report looks at the unique challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has presented to Lincoln’s disabled community. We will be running the second part of that series on next week’s show, where we will follow up with Carlos Servan, the Director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Brad Meurrens, the Public Policy Director for the Disability Rights of Nebraska.

And, if you’re wondering why the delay, the answer is simple. Today we have an update on that recently rescinded Fairness Ordinance.

We’ll be starting off with a quick recap of what the Fairness Ordinance is. Then we’ll hear from Kay Siebler of the “Let Lincoln Vote” initiative, a group of volunteers who oppose the rescinding of the Fairness Ordinance. And, lastly, we’ll be joined by Natalie Weiss one of the co-authors of the community statement released in opposition to the “Let Lincoln Vote” initiative.

But first, we have some relatively breaking news.

On July 20, an Air Park neighborhood at the northwest edge of Lincoln caught video footage of a mountain lion in their backyard. In a next-day press release, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission confirmed that they have collared this particular mountain lion before. However, the collar does not provide daily locations, so any reported observations by the public can be helpful when tracking this animal.

While mountain lions rarely interact with humans, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission would like to remind the public of what to do should one encounter a mountain lion. Firstly, do not approach the mountain lion. Leave the animal an avenue of escape and back away slowly. Do not turn your back on the lion or run. If you are being attacked, try to remain on your feet and fight back. And, finally, report any sighting at OutdoorNebraska.org.

Amantha Dickman, News Director:  On the morning of July 7, community members gathered at the Eiseley Branch Library to celebrate the launch of the “Books for Babies” program. The program was developed by Lincoln East sophomore Ellie Hiser who worked with Bryan Health, CHI St. Elizabeth, and Lincoln City Libraries to provide all infants born in Lincoln hospitals with a free, developmentally appropriate board book. In addition to this book, parents will receive informational content that can be presented at any Lincoln city library branch to receive another book.

Let’s check in and see what community members had to say.

Pat Leach, Director of the Lincoln City Public Libraries: Good morning, everyone. And welcome to Eiseley Branch Library. I’m Pat Leach, the director of Lincoln City Libraries.

It’s a great day at the library today, as we announce a program that is truly near and dear to my librarian’s heart. Books for Babies follows on what we know about the importance of reading out loud to young children, beginning when they are infants.

Through this partnership, when a baby is born in a Lincoln hospital, the family receives the gift of a board book along with information on early literacy and an invitation to the city library, where they can receive another book for their home library. The magic happens, of course, when parents, grandparents, caregivers, whoever shares those books with babies.

I want to note our gratitude for Ellie who will be part of today’s events of her getting this ball rolling, more than rolling, frankly, in terms of having this project be available for Lincoln’s families.

We do have several speakers this morning representing a very broad partnership in support of Books for Babies. I will list them here now, and then I will invite them each to follow each other sort of baseball style; that is please be on deck when your turn is coming up. We will be hearing from these people, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, then Ellie Hiser, who is a student at Lincoln East High School. Then Dr. Jason Kruger, chief medical officer for CHI Health St. Elizabeth, then Alexa Lewis, who is the director of women’s and children’s services at Bryan Health. And then Alysia Bousquet, who is our libraries read out loud advocate.

And, so, to begin, I’m delighted to note that she has been an advocate for reading and libraries for many, many years. And, so, it is my special honor to introduce our first speaker, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird.

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Well, thank you so much, Pat.

And, uh, before we continue, I do just wanna take a moment to honor you and say, thank you for your incredible leadership and service 13 years as director of, I think, 43 years involved with Lincoln City Libraries, serving our community in so many different capacities.

And I mean, congratulations on your upcoming, well-earned retirement. We don’t want you to go, but we know that we have to let you go. But you leave such big shoes to fill. And the vibrancy of this wonderful place that’s being enjoyed by so many, from all ages, is just part of a tremendous legacy that you leave behind.

Uh, and I wanna thank as well, the Community Health Endowment, Bryan Health, CHI Health St. Elizabeth, and all of the private donors who’ve made today possible in this program possible, but I wanna reserve my most special, thanks of all, uh, to Lincoln East High School sophomore, Ellie Hiser, who inspired and initiated this new program.

And I wanna say thanks to Ellie and the generosity of our Lincoln community today. We begin a whole new story for babies and their caregivers in Lincoln, one which illustrates that Lincoln reads to care and cares to read, one in which that care and many books will be freely given and offered. And one we’ve titled Books for Babies. Books for Babies is a new three-year program that will provide all babies born at Lincoln area hospitals with a free developmentally-appropriate board book.

New caregivers will also receive a flyer about the benefits of reading to babies and a flyer that they can then present at any Lincoln City Library branch to receive another free book and our dedicated library staff, many of whom are here today, are key characters in this program too.

They recently created a video for nurses about the importance of reading aloud in a baby’s development and provided book, selection, and coordination. And perhaps most importantly, this program will help to cradle a lifelong love of learning. One that begins in the cradle. Or in my case, actually it was while reading to my babies in my rocking chair.

Um, that was part of our daily routine in my family. And there’s a world of literature about the benefits of reading allowed to babies in terms of their language acquisition and brain development, even before they can make sense of the words that we’re sharing or the stories that we’re reciting to them.

My personal favorite benefit of those days in the rocking chair, reading books allowed to my babies, was the cuddling and the closeness, which besides being just the best thing ever as a mom, is also helping to form secure attachments for young children. It wasn’t real long before my babies… I mean, it just goes by so fast before we were all toddling over together to the South Branch Library where my kids discovered everything from Beatrix Potter to Harry Potter. And this journey of learning and discovery of secure attachment and healthy early childhood development from the first moments in a child’s life should be available to every child in Lincoln.

And that’s why we’re all here today. I’m really delighted to support this program because where there are Books for Babies, there are learners for life and learners who become the future leaders of our vibrant city, leaders like Ellie. And these readers are learners for life return their love of reading back to future generations. So, the story comes full circle. Thank you again to everyone involved with lifting this program off the ground. We’re so proud to be able to offer it to our youngest residents here in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Ellie Hiser, Founder of the Books for Babies program: Hi, my name is Ellie Hiser. First, I would just like to say how excited I am to see this project finally taking off. This project, as you can see, has been a huge team effort and would not have been possible without this amazing team.

I’ve always loved reading. And I was first inspired to start Books for Babies when I was about in third grade. And I realized that not all kids are given equal opportunities to have books, and aren’t all read to when they’re young. A few years ago, before we moved to Lincoln, my mom became a court-appointed special advocate. Family she worked with often had young kids, but didn’t have any books in their homes. This truly made me realize that many kids don’t grow up with books and how great the need is in many communities.

Last summer, I wanted to see if I could make this project a reality. So, I reached out to Bryan Health from there. The project took off and we partnered with CHI, the Lincoln Public Libraries, and received grant funding from the Community Health Endowment to help make this project a reality. It’s been a great team effort and I’m really excited to see it starting up, to help all kids start life with a book in their homes and help their families know the importance of reading.

Thank you.

Dr. Jason Kruger, Chief Medical Officer at CHI Health’s St. Elizabeth: Good morning.

My name is Dr. Jason Kruger. I’ve worked at CHI Health St. Elizabeth for the past 15 years, and recently took on the role as chief medical officer. Another title I am proud of to have is dad.

I am a father of eight children. All of whom were born at St. Elizabeth. As a physician and as a father, I know firsthand the importance of reading plays in the development and skills of our babies.

Introducing them to new sounds, pictures, and colors, encourages cognitive thinking and can also help foster a special bond between parents and their children. The maternity center at St. Elizabeth has the honor of welcoming new life into the world each and every day. Our level three neonatal intensive care unit also cares for high-risk babies who have special care needs after they’re born.

Most families are able to go home after a day or two. But for other families whose babies are in the NICU, a hospital stay can stretch weeks and even months. The Books for Babies program will allow parents to have access to a book at home. And, in the hospital, our NICU provides books to families while they’re at the hospital, but they will also be able to keep this book and take it home, a special keepsake or first book to cherish.

Many of us have the privilege of being read to as a child or read to our babies. Now, not every family has this opportunity. CHI Health is proud to support this Book’s for Baby’s program and extends a big thank you to Ellie Hiser for her work on to make this program a reality. We know these books will make a big difference for our children as they grow and hope they also help spark a love of reading.

Thank you, Ellie. And thank you to Mayor Gaylor Baird, Lincoln City Libraries, Bryan Health, and the Community Health Endowment for your partnership and support of this project.

Alexa Lewis, Nursing Director for Women’s and Children’s Services at Bryan Medical Center: Good morning. My name is Alexa Lewis. I’m the nursing director for women’s and children’s services at Bryan Medical Center. I’ve been back here in Lincoln for about three years now, but I’ve spent most of my nursing career in OB dealing with babies and now with children.

And this is just an incredible opportunity for the community and for our patients to get started on the right foot. This includes all of our patients. We’re planning on delivering 3000 books here in Lincoln at Bryan Medical Center and another 300 or so at Crete Area Medical Center for their community.

It is amazing to see the community come together in this and partner as hospitals and make Ellie’s vision become a reality. I love that kids have such great aspirations to give back and to be something more than just a community member, but they want to leave a legacy for themselves and, and make it better for the next generation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you read to your baby starting at birth. But even before that moms can read, dads can read to their babies, whether in the womb, they get to know that voice. They get to know the, get to know those words, and become comfortable with that voice. And in that situation at age of five children who were read to regularly from birth no, no significantly more words than their peers who are not read.

So, this is more than just that bonding or that creating a love for reading. It’s really set, setting them up for academic success in a future. As a community member, Ellie Hiser came to us early last year and through the help of, of Jenny Sundberg and, and all of our, the collaboration at Bryan Health and CHI and the whole community, this is becoming a reality. And that is so exciting.

Like I said, we’re excited to deliver the 3000 books that we have, on being delivered, I think, here shortly and just educating our staff on the importance of teaching our parents, that this is not only a part of their child’s development but their long-term wellbeing. So, we will focus on, on teaching this to our staff and training that to our parents.

So, thank you for being here and for your support.

Alysia Bousquet, Read Aloud Advocate for Lincoln City Libraries: Hi there. I’m Alysia Bousquet, the read-aloud advocate for Lincoln City Libraries and the library contact for Books for Babies. Being the read-aloud advocate at Lincoln city libraries is pretty unique, but, really, it’s my job to promote and support reading aloud for 15 minutes a day every day with our children here in Lincoln.

Reading aloud with children has so many benefits. But, overall it helps us build a stronger and healthier community with children who are school ready and future-ready. In my role, I try to do my best to reach all corners of Lincoln, but I know that there are gaps in people that I’m not reaching. But the great thing about Books for Babies is that we do get to reach all families with this program.

So, every child born at Lincoln will receive a free book from one of our hospital systems here. And their parents will receive an informational flyer about the importance of reading with baby and the read-aloud message. We know in research shows that starting a reading habit at an early age, preferably birth, is crucial for brain development.

And in fact, in those first few months, in first years of life, we’re really setting the framework for how a brain is going to function for a child’s entire life. Not only will children be better readers and learners, but they’ll be building empathy and building a really trusting relationship with their parent or caregiver as they read with.

We’re so grateful that Brian Health thought of us as an authority on books and reading when they were first discussing this program. We’re so pleased to work with CHI and the Community Health Endowment for partnering with us. And we look forward to continuing this partnership in the future.

So, thanks so much.

Pat Leach, Director of the Lincoln City Public Libraries: Well, I would just like to say again, thank you for joining us on this excellent day at the library. We couldn’t be happier about this day and your presence here. So again, thank you.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: What a wonderful program. And of course, we’re going to take a very quick commercial break, and then we’re going to jump right in with that fairness ordinance update. So, stay tuned.

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Amantha Dickman, News Director: And welcome back to today’s episode of “KZUM News.”

If this is the first time you’ve tuned in today, we’re glad you could join us. The focus of today’s show is the recently rescinded Fairness Ordinance.

Despite being approved on February 14, the ordinance was brought before the Lincoln City Council and rescinded in a 4-3 vote on June 13 after the Nebraska Family Alliance filed a referendum petition to allow citizens to vote on the matter during the November general election. We’ve already spoken to Marilyn Synek of the Nebraska Family Alliance. Now, we have the opportunity to learn more about the “Let Lincoln Vote” initiative from volunteer Kay Siebler.

Thank you for joining us again. I did a little bit of reading this morning, so I could learn a little more about the Let Us Vote initiative. For listeners who maybe are not familiar with the organization, can you tell us about the work that you do with Let Us Vote?

Kay Siebler, Representative of Let Lincoln Vote: All right.

So, we aren’t really even an organization, but Let Us Vote is kind of like the co-sponsors of the petition initiative.

The history is long, this sort of language that we’re trying to incorporate into the city code was actually drafted two and a half years ago, I think. And it’s a comprehensive sort of redo of the Title VI municipal code that deals with discrimination.

So, it is definitely LGBTQ+. But it’s also active duty military, the language regarding disability and who is considered to be part of that protected class is updated. There’s language regarding service animals, as opposed to just guide dogs. There’s a revisioning of race that includes hair discrimination. A tribal affiliation is added for the first time in national origin. So, there is like a comprehensive redo of that section Title VI of the Lincoln city code that deals with categories of people that can claim discrimination at the municipal level.

So. it’s been two and a half years, been out there, the city council didn’t act on it. It’s just been out there. In February, the city council voted five to zero to actually adopt the amendments, all those amendments. Then the Nebraska Family Alliance, a very concerted anti-queer, I don’t know, political group initiated a petition campaign.

They had two weeks to collect signatures in order to stop that because in the Lincoln municipal code, if the council acts and a group disagrees with how the council acts, they can initiate a referendum to say, “Hold it. The voters didn’t like that.” So, they did, they collected their signatures, but their concern was only the LGBTQ+ stuff.

So that was their initiative, was just focused on that. The city council then had to revisit. And they were talking about when they were gonna revisit it and how they were gonna revisit it. And then without sort of any warning one of the council members put it on the agenda. So, then they had to act. And that was in… that was June 13, I believe.

So, at that moment, then three of the city council people, who had originally voted for the proposed amendments in February, flipped their votes and voted against it. And, so, then the motion was to rescind the amendments at that council meeting. I was there with a number of the co-sponsors.

We felt such despair because we were so close to getting these provisions within the Lincoln municipal code. And Sandra Washington said,”Don’t feel despair. You know, don’t feel despair. We have got to do something. We’re gonna do something, but you know, don’t feel despair.”

And, so, the next day we were talking about that, like what can we do?

And one of the things we could do is bring it to the people, bring the petition to the people, put it on the ballot and have Lincoln vote in favor of anti-discrimination, in fairness, in all these categories, right? So, this is the entire Title VI revisions that we’re talking about, updating all those classes of people.

So, it took us about a week of meeting with attorneys and things like that, to make sure that we had the language right, to make sure that we were going forward in a way that we needed to go forward, talking to the city council, talking to people in the city clerk’s office, those sorts of things. And then we filed the… formally filed the petition and now we have to collect the signatures.

We need 8,800 some because it’s… I’m gonna probably get it wrong, so please forgive me. I think it’s 5% of the voters in Lincoln who voted in the last presidential election, I think is what we have to get. And that number is about 8,800 and some. So our goal is like 10,000 or a little bit, you know, beyond that, to make sure that we get the needed signature. So, we wanted it on the November ballot. Here’s why we wanted on the November ballot. If you look back in Lincoln history from, you know, let’s just go back 15 years, Lincoln always votes progressive on that November ballot by 10 to 30%, it’s not even close. So, we believe that the voters will show up in November if this is on the ballot.

We also believe that this is a great time to put it on the November ballot because of the marijuana thing is probably gonna be on there… The marijuana issue, the minimum wage issue is gonna be on there. We have congressional seats on their right progressive candidates and, and we believe that this is like those issues: marijuana, minimum wage, people know how they’re gonna vote.

There’s not any amount of voter education that’s gonna flip someone’s opinion on this, other than, as we’re educating people when we’re collecting signatures, doing this voter education like this is what this is includes. It’s not just the LGBTQ+ piece. That’s important. And a lot of people are signing only because of that. They want protections for LGBTQ people. But it is also active duty. Military are not currently protected. National Guard people aren’t protected. Those people face discrimination every day regarding employment and housing because landlords and businesses who hire them think that they’re an unstable risk because they’re gonna get up and leave. You know, those things.

All of those disability language being updated to include things that are not physical, just rigidly physical disabilities. And the word is handicapped in the current code, you know.

So, people are more than happy to sign. We have lots of volunteers circulating petitions. It’s not difficult, getting the signatures. It’s just a matter of getting out there and getting the signatures.

The other reason we want it on the November ballot is there’s gonna be some really heinous anti-trans legislation that is gonna be in the legislature this coming spring. And if we don’t get these protections on the books this fall, it’s going to be not a positive thing for the trans members and the queer people in our community. That’s the reason why we’re going for November.

So, we really believe that it’s a shoe-in for November. We believe that we need to get these protections by November. And the thing about the Lincoln municipal code people say, “Oh, but there’s national protections for these categories of people.” In some cases that’s true, although these amendments would also include public accommodations, but are, which are not covered by the national. And as we know with the Roe decision, the national sort of climate, we can’t depend on that for protections, I don’t think anymore. So, this would codify them at the municipal level so that people have municipal protections. They can file a complaint, as a Lincoln resident who feels they’re discriminated against they don’t have to make a federal case out of it. In other words, and any time you want to file a case of discrimination on the federal level, you need a lot of money for an attorney. You need a lot of time. And it’s gonna take a long period of time to get that resolved.

So that’s why municipalities really need these things on the books at the local level.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: So you’ve been out, you’ve been campaigning. How is the campaign to get signatures going so far?

Kay Siebler, Representative of Let Lincoln Vote: It’s great. And it’s so affirming. First of all, people thank us profusely for, for doing what we’re doing.

We’re 100% volunteer. This is like 100% grassroots. The co-signers literally have been working on this, some of us, for four decades. We have George Wolf, who’s in his eighties, Barbara D Bernards, who’s in her seventies. You know, so we are mostly a queer-identifying – trans, lesbian, queer, gay. We do have a co-signer who is a cis-gendered man. But other than that, we are part of the queer community and have been for decades in Lincoln and working on this issue for a long time. So, overwhelmingly, we are getting such a positive and reassuring message from the Lincoln community. People are more than happy to sign. They thank us for being out here.

I had a little boy, I was at July Jam. I had this little boy come up to me and say, “Thank you so much for you doing, you are a good person. You’re doing the right work.”  You know, like people get this. We are not a community that wants to discriminate. And this is an issue of protecting the most vulnerable among us to make sure that there are checks and balances in place so that they, if they are discriminated against, they have a recourse and people get that. And they’re more than happy to.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: So, we… you mentioned the Nebraska Family Alliance and the opposition that they put up once the ordinance initially passed. Can you tell us a little bit about the response that you’ve gotten from them in, in terms of your efforts or heard from them?

Kay Siebler, Representative of Let Lincoln Vote: Yeah, zero. We have received zero. Even in approaching people, if they don’t wanna sign they kind of just go, “No, thank you.”

You know, they’ve been very, I guess if they’re out there and again, that percentage of the population is so small. Most of the people, if they’re Lincoln voters, they wanna sign. So, we haven’t had any negative interactions with people who are transphobic, homophobic. So, and I also think because we’re doing the broader net, even if people are like, “Oh, I don’t know about that issue”, but the minute you say active duty military, you know, national guard people, folks with disabilities need to be, you know, protected and the language needs to be updated. It gives them pause. And that’s what we’re doing also is this sort of deep canvassing with voters, we’re really educating them. This is what this is folks. So even if you think, oh no, I’m really opposed to, I don’t know… LGBTQ+ people getting protections, then it’s like, yes, but all these other people will also be benefiting from this.

We are redoing all of the language and one of the Nebraska Family Alliances primary concerns, according to their press releases, at least, is that the language was too vague.

Has there been alterations made to the language to really? No. And, again, I don’t know what they think is big.

The language for sex… this is the amended, the proposed amendments – and we as petitioners, we have to carry a copy of the proposed amendment. So, it’s easy to pull this out… According to the proposed amendment sex shall mean female, male, neither, or both, and includes, but is not limited to sexual orientation and gender identity as well as pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.

So, I don’t know what would be unclear about that. So, I know that on their website and on our fact sheet, we kind of rebut the things that they put on their website. So, one of the things they put on their website is, and all of the things that they put on their website as like… “this will happen” are absolutely false.

So, for example, they put on their website, if this passes, churches will have to perform gay marriage, Nope, your church can have a policy in place. And if you do not want to perform same-sex marriages, you can point to your policy to say, our church has policy against that. Right? So, and if you look at our fact sheet that that is on our website, you will see their, the exact arguments that they post on their website and then are rebuttals to that. Like, Nope, this is actually false. You cannot be sued because you use incorrect pronouns. You know, they have things like that on there.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then just out of curiosity, how long have you been working with the Let Lincoln Vote initiative?

Kay Siebler, Representative of Let Lincoln Vote: Well, like I said, we just, it is literally 100% grassroots. We, all of us have been interested in this issue, involved in this issue, contacting city council representatives for two and a half years.

Some of us going back 40 years with the defense of marriage act to try to get this inclusive language into the city code. So, it’s not a short-term thing. It’s been going on for literally decades for some of the people involved in this group. But the Let Lincoln Vote, sort of like a petition initiative, I believe it was June 22.

So, then when we filed with the city, Let Lincoln Vote is just the name. It’s a, it’s a place for, it’s a website for people to go, right? We are not an organization. We don’t have any sort of organized group. Those six, seven co-sponsors that filed the petition. That’s when we filed it, we filed it on June 22.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: So, I don’t actually have any other questions, but is there anything that you feel like we haven’t talked about that you would like to expand on?

Kay Siebler, Representative of Let Lincoln Vote: Well, I think one of the criticisms that we have heard is people saying you don’t have any money and you can’t combat the Nebraska Family Alliance unless you have tons of money.

My, our rebuttal to that is… go out and make the money.

If you are concerned about money and you’re concerned about not having the money to combat the Nebraska Family Alliance, please hit the ground, go do that, go make the money. We wanna get it on the ballot. We believe that this is an issue that people know how they’re gonna vote, and they’re gonna overwhelmingly vote for it.

So, we are not concerned with the money, but if you are concerned with the money, contact Sandra Washington, contact other organizations, I don’t know who they are. I know Sandra is trying to work on raising money and get busy  but don’t criticize the people who are busy. You know? We are the activists who are out there, we’re collecting the signatures. That’s our lane. That’s what we’re doing. If you wanna join us, please join us. We’re more than happy to set you up with a petition clipboard and send you on your way.

But if you’re gonna criticize us, because we don’t have money, go, go raise the money. Go do that, please.

And then the other thing that I’ve heard is sort of this, like you don’t represent the trans community on this.

And what we would say to that is we do have trans people involved with this. One of our co-sponsors is a trans person, The trans community, the LGBQ+ community, is not a monolith folks. We don’t purport to represent everybody in the LGBTQ+ community. We do not purport to represent everybody who’s within the constructs of these amendments, but we know that there are people who support us from all.

Spectrums on this political plane and in this marginalized perspectives and social justice movement. So please do not say the trans community blank. Nobody represents the trans community. It is diverse. It is across generations. It is cross political divides, you know, at least acknowledge that if you disagree with this, that’s fine.

Don’t assume that you speak for everyone within the queer community.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: So, thank you again for meeting with me.

Kay Siebler, Representative of Let Lincoln Vote: All right. Very good, Amantha.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Take care, have a good afternoon.

Kay Siebler, Representative of Let Lincoln Vote: You too.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: You just heard from Kay Siebler, representing the “Let Lincoln Vote” initiative. If you want to learn more about their campaign, you can visit letlincolnvote.com. We have another quick break but after that, we have one more interview today. We’ll sit down with Natalie Weiss, a vocal opponent of the “Let Lincoln Vote” initiative and learn about the concerns Lincolnites have shared over this ordinance joining the ballot for this upcoming election.

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Amantha Dickman, News Director: And welcome back. We are on the third part of today’s story which features an update on Lincoln’s rescinded Fairness Ordinance. If you are just tuning in, don’t forget that we had a small feature about this during our June 25 show. The ordinance had been approved earlier this year but was brought before the Lincoln City Council a second time after the Nebraska Family Alliance filed a referendum petition to allow Nebraskans to vote on the matter during the November general election. The Fairness Ordinance was rescinded on June 13. We’ve been lucky enough to sit down with both Marilyn Synek of the Nebraska Family Alliance and Kay Siebler who is representing the opposing “Let Lincoln Vote” initiative.

But we’re going to switch things up a bit.

Joining us is Natalie Weiss to discuss the concerns she, and potentially other Lincolnites, have about plans to introduce the ordinance to the ballot.

Good morning, Natalie.

Natalie Weiss, Co-signer of Community Letter Opposing Let Lincoln Vote: Good morning.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: How are you?

Natalie Weiss, Co-signer of Community Letter Opposing Let Lincoln Vote: Oh, another beautiful day in the neighborhood. How are you?

Amantha Dickman, News Director: I’m doing wonderful, thank you. Now we won’t beat around the bush too much. We know you currently are a serving chair member for the Nebraska Stonewall Democrats, which is the LGBTQIA2S+ caucus for the Party. Recently you helped pen a community letter that opposed the “Let Lincoln Vote” initiative, which would put the recently rescinded Fairness Ordinance on the ballot for the upcoming general election in November. Can you tell us about the community statement and the stance that it outlines?

Natalie Weiss, Co-signer of Community Letter Opposing Let Lincoln Vote: Yeah.

So, I’ve been around this issue, personally, since about 2017 here in the city of Lincoln. There have been lots of people in the community who have been around much longer, but my involvement started around 2017. I was picked to direct a canvas that was funded by ACLU Nebraska here in the city. We were asking voters specifically about this issue and whether or not they would support it going up to a vote for the city. The data that we got from that was… not very good, wasn’t particularly encouraging, which took a lot of help from Houston, which had had a similar vote in 2015. I believe is when they held their vote 2015 or 16.

There’s only been a handful of cities like Lincoln, who have to hold a vote on this. Most municipalities are able to pass these types of protections through their city council. Omaha was able to do that.

Lincoln’s city charter allows citizens to hold any decision that the city council makes up to a vote if they get enough signatures within 15 days. And, so, we have enough opposition in this city, that anytime our city council brings this up, they are prepared to go and gather those signatures and force it to be put up to a ballot initiative.

We know from locals that have had to do this type of ballot initiative fight that this is extremely expensive.

The opposition messaging to LGBT+ rights legal protections is very effective. It works really well in a soundbite. They focus in on trans people using bathrooms, pretty much. They turn it into a pedophile issue. It works really great in a sentence, it works excellent on a postcard or a targeted mailer. It works great in 30-second video or radio ad and our messaging to counter that is more difficult to explain to voters. It requires some pretty in-depth conversations, usually two to three contacts with voters to be able to flip a vote. And that type of work, you can’t rely on volunteers to do. You have to pay canvassers to go out and do that work so that we are having consistent conversations.

And, so, the effort that it takes to put this up to a ballot and win is enormous. Our opposition has national allies that are able to pour a lot of money into these issues. And we’re in a state where we’ve got a millionaire governor who really does not like trans people. And he is supporting a millionaire gubernatorial candidate who really does not like trans people. And they’re willing to throw a lot of money into this.

Jim Pillen, when the city of Lincoln passed the Title VI revisions back in February, Jim Pillen immediately had a statewide television ad that he put out attacking trans people using bathrooms. So, we know that our opposition is ready for this.

And we, unfortunately, in the city of Lincoln, our side of this issue are not, we don’t have the money raised and we don’t have the organizational capacity to really go and fight for this. And what Let Lincoln Vote is trying to do is, is to put this on the ballot in three months when we’ve got a very contentious first district house race, where our chances of flipping that seat are slim. And putting a hot-button social issue on the ballot to run concurrently with that is probably not the best political move for a lot of our down-ballot people right now. And we are just not in a position to really tackle the issue.

Everybody in the state who is a Politico, who is willing and able to work on this issue, has the expertise necessary to be on a campaign, they’re hired already. They’re working on our other campaigns in the state right now. Our personnel is limited and they’re all working, you know? And, so, it’s a complex reason why myself and these other 20 signatories of that letter oppose this, but it boils down to money and organization. And those are two things that we don’t have right now in the capacity that we would need to have them for us to feel like we would have a reasonable shot at winning at the ballot.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now you’ve mentioned those organizational and funding concerns. I suppose, do you have any conditions you would like to see Let Lincoln Vote put into place, or would you prefer that they just push off for a little while? What kind of outcome would you like to see from opposing this initiative?

Natalie Weiss, Co-signer of Community Letter Opposing Let Lincoln Vote: We really, our hope is that we are able to convince enough Lincolnites to not sign that petition and that we don’t hold this vote in November.

Our position right now is that the time between now and November is not sufficient enough to raise the money and, and raise the campaign that would be necessary.

Wouldn’t really work for this. And we, we just don’t see a path, a viable path forward in the timeframe that they’re talking about. You know, when cities hold this vote and, and our opposition puts all that messaging that’s really hard for a trans person in those cities to deal with that. That’s extremely difficult. The messaging that they use is very insidious. It’s, it’s not nice.

And when we don’t have an organizational capacity to push back against that in a public way, in a visible way, that leaves trans people with the understanding that they’re just sort of being hung out to dry.

You know, and I’m, they, you know, they’re, they’re seeing all this anti messaging and we’re not there to help right? So, it creates mental anguish. It creates potential mental health problems for our community when we’re not organized and ready to go and do this. And if we lose, because we weren’t ready to have this vote, we’re looking at the prospect of not really being able to touch the issue as a city for 10, maybe 20 years.

The political will, the political capital that would be needed to have the fight… if we lose that, it would take that long to rebuild that, to be able to come back and touch the issue.

Again, losing a municipal vote means that you’re giving a mandate on the issue to whichever side has just won, right? And for a city council or for a mayor to try and take up an issue when a vote has just been held is next to impossible. So, we think that we only get one real shot at this, you know, once it goes on the ballot, that is our shot. And, so, we want to make sure that we are in the best position possible when that vote happens.

And we’ve been doing our best to communicate to people that the money has to be raised.

First, we’ve got to get several hundred thousand dollars raised, and then we can bring the issue. And there’s a lot of discussions on how to get that money raised. You know, we’re, there’s different avenues that we could go through to start raising that, whether or not we would need a political entity, a pack or an individual to raise that money for us for legal purposes and tax purposes.

That’s all being explored right now. And that’s, I’m kind of rambling here for you in this answer, but yeah, it’s, it’s just, it’s a, it’s a highly contentious thing and. Losing means we don’t get another chance for a long time and doing it without the organization. And the money means dangerous outcomes, especially for trans people.

So, this is the, you know, we’ve got a lot of people in Lincoln who wanna believe that we’re a very liberal city and that we’re a little blue dot. And in a lot of ways, we are. We vote for a lot of democratic candidates, but voting for a candidate that supports LGBT+ issues or voting for an out candidate is not the same in the eyes of most voters as voting for a specific ballot initiative that’s being marketed as, as trans bathroom rights. They just… voters don’t view those two things as the same way, voting for a candidate and voting for an issue. As soon as you start talking to voters, you know, voting for LGBT+ equality means that a pedophile might have access to a bathroom where your daughter, or your sister, or your mom is, all of a sudden that that changes that voter’s perception of the issue. And a voter who might be willing to support an LGBT+ candidate or a candidate who says they support LGBT+ issues might vote against trans bathroom access bills because of the way that those bills are marketed by our opposition and the way that they communicate the issue to voters.

And so that’s, that’s kind of our concern. I’m not certain that I’m doing the best of describing it. It is very complicated and our chances are not cut and dry. This is, this is not a slam dunk issue. This is not something that we can just put it on the ballot and expect a win. This would require a lot of work by a lot of people. And it would require paying those people because the work that they would be doing would be extremely difficult, taxing emotionally and physically to go out and have those conversations and convince voters to talk to people about why fellow citizens deserve rights.

You know, that’s taxing.

That’s hard to do.

It’s not the same as going and asking for a vote for a candidate. It’s not as easy. And those are some of the things that we’ve been trying to explain to our city leaders and to our community and to our city over the last year, since February, since the title VI revisions were first passed by the city.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. Now you mentioned one of my questions, but I do have a follow-up question related to something you mentioned, you talked a little bit about the psychological effect that these opposing campaigns can have on trans individuals in their cities. Do we also tend to see an increase in violence against trans individuals when these campaigns are ongoing?

Natalie Weiss, Co-signer of Community Letter Opposing Let Lincoln Vote: It’s possible, the correlation is, is not direct, you know?

But there is some evidence to suggest that the way that these issues are packaged by our opposition, the way that they talk about the way that they conflate trans bathroom use with pedophilia and with sexual assault, that does have the potential. And there is some data to suggest that it does lead to violent ideation from certain segments of the population who are already predisposed to not appreciate trans people.

As soon as people start talking about, not only are trans people gross, but they’re also dangerous for your kids or for your wife. Yeah. That, that does trigger some things for people. And yes, violence is a very real concern.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Mm-hmm. Now we’ve talked a little bit about why you’re posing the let Lincoln vote initiative and it has to do with their organizational and funding methods.

And just to clarify for listeners, you do not actually oppose the fairness ordinance itself.

Natalie Weiss, Co-signer of Community Letter Opposing Let Lincoln Vote: No, not no, of course not. No. We need those protections in Lincoln. I believe that we are going to get there. It’s just a matter of. It’s just a matter of convincing people that we really do only have one shot and our opposition is organized, is ready to have this fight.

You know, this is our opposition to this is being led by the Nebraska Family Alliance. And to a lesser extent, the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

The Nebraska Family Alliance is an extremely well-organized political lobby in this state. They… I’m kind of jealous of them, with how well they do what they do. It is a little bit awe-inspiring. Their track record is amazing. They do not take on fights that they think they could lose. Last year, I think it was last year but it might have been in 2020, James Michael Bowers, city Councilman put forward a resolution to outlaw conversion therapy in the city of Lincoln. Conversion therapy is a really insidious religiously based therapy that’s designed to try and get gay and trans people to deny who they are and just lead a straight, cis-heteronormative lifestyle, sometimes involves shock therapy. It’s been rejected by multiple mental health professional organizations and James put forward a proposition to ban conversion therapy in the city of Lincoln.

The Nebraska Family Alliance has opposed conversion therapy bans at the state Legislature, at the state Supreme Court, and in front of our federal government, in front of our Senate, in the house of representatives, they have gone to bat against outlying conversion therapy in many instances, but they did not oppose it when we tried to get it done here in Lincoln, because they knew that they probably would not win that vote. Conversion therapy polls really well here in Lincoln, really, really well.

And when you go, and it’s very easy to go and explain to voters that, you know, electroshock therapy based on religious principles, isn’t very good thing. You know, that’s not based in science, right? That’s a much easier thing to go and explain to voters than trans people deserve to have bathroom access and NFA didn’t oppose that conversion therapy ban, they didn’t try to stop that. They didn’t collect signatures to put that up to a vote because they knew that they would lose. They decided to gather signatures and put the title VI revisions up to a vote, the fairness ordinance up to a vote, because they know that they can. They know that they’re in a position where they can get 50% plus one in the city on that issue, which is why they’re willing to organize and raise money to do it.

And so that’s, that’s what we’re, that’s really the thing. We’ve got one shot and our opposition knows that they can win. They know that they got a good chance and that’s why they’re organized and ready to do it. And, so, we must be also, and that’s, that’s what we’re talking about. It’s not about opposition to the fairness ordinance.

I’m a trans woman. I am the chair of the Nebraska Stonewall Democrats, as you mentioned earlier. I, you know, I want these protections for myself in my city and I want them for all other people like me, but losing on this means we don’t get to try again for a very long time and losing on this means that the status quo is not maintained. It, it means that our opposition is emboldened. It means that people that want us to deny us housing and employment and public accommodations. Get a mandate from the city to continue that behavior and expand that behavior. All of a sudden there that is excused. If, if we go out and lose a vote on this, so that’s, that is the alarm bells that we’re trying to reign.

This is we get one shot. This is very dangerous. Our opposition is organized and ready and they know that they can win. And that’s why we need to make sure that we cross every T that we dot every I, that we’ve got every single duck lined up and in that row, before we decide to put this on the ballot.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then out of curiosity, I know that community letter that you helped pen is on Seeing Red, their website. Do you currently have another website for individuals to read up on the issue or social media pages that they can follow to learn more?

Natalie Weiss, Co-signer of Community Letter Opposing Let Lincoln Vote: We do not have a social media page. No, the group that signed that letter, that that was just 21 individuals who are LGBT identifying in the city of Lincoln with decades of political experience. And we got together and decided that we wanted to make that statement for the city. You can see it on the Lincoln Journal Star and also on Seeing Red.

And we do have a website if people read that letter, if people are convinced by this interview and you’ve signed, Let Lincoln’s Vote petition, and you are maybe having second thoughts about that, you can visit declinetosign2020.com and you can get information on how to remove your name from that signature. And you would remove your name from that petition and you have until August 1 to get that done.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Perfect. And then, is there anything that we haven’t talked about today that you would like to comment on or anything that you feel we haven’t covered that you would like to cover really quick?

Natalie Weiss, Co-signer of Community Letter Opposing Let Lincoln Vote: I would like to say, I, I know a lot of the, let Lincoln vote people.

I’ve known several of them for many years. I know that they’re good people. I know that many of them have been working on these protections in Lincoln for decades, some of them for most of their lives, and that it’s 2022 and it’s been too long. And I know that it’s very frustrating that myself and others are trying to pump the brakes on this.

But what we are doing is trying very hard to avoid a catastrophe. We’re trying to make sure that when this happens, when this vote is held, we do win. Because losing in our view would be such. That would be so hard for the city and so hard for so many people. And that would mean a lot more people would pass on from this life before we got this accomplished.

So, we just wanna wait a, a little bit longer. Y’all give us a couple more years, give us 24 months, let us figure out how to get this money raised and we’re gonna get this done for Lincoln. And, so, Let Lincoln Vote, we’re going to get this done. Everyone who supports Let Lincoln Vote, we are going to get this done.

It’s just extremely important that we recognize the strength of our opposition and don’t underestimate it and make sure that we’re ready for this fight when it happens.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Well then thank you so much for sitting down with us, Natalie. Again, I appreciate you making the time on such short notice.

Natalie Weiss, Co-signer of Community Letter Opposing Let Lincoln Vote: Yeah. Thank you again, really appreciate you. Thanks for taking the time.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And that was Natalie Weiss, who joined us today to discuss the community letter she helped pen that outlined concerns in regards to the plans to introduce the ordinance to the upcoming general election ballot. I’m sure there are others out there who share her concerns, so I’m so happy we were able to sit down with her.

I know that I am steadily running out of time. So here are your reminders for today.

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