Starting Again
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Culture Wars Have No Winners

{EDIT: Following some Twitter comments, I feel compelled to add that my views here are based on policymaking practicalities, not on the essence of the argument. Unlike with defining where stop signs should be placed or what speed limits are for everyone, culture war-related legislation doesn't typically "fix" the problems because they're so inextricably linked with human nature and a desire for self-determination. In the end, people ought to be treated with kindness and respect and be loved and valued for who they are. Laws don't get us there, although I suppose that the fight for--or against--them has the potential to change attitudes.}


I live a conservative and conventional life. Married my high school sweetheart in 1981 at age 19, raised three kids with him, have a 6-year-old granddaughter, and look forward to growing old(er) and retiring together one day. 

My husband is the local Boy Scout Scoutmaster (even though our son received his Eagle Scout almost 3 years ago and is now in college). I'm a Lifetime Girl Scout, and was the leader of troops when my girls were involved. 

We go to church on (most) Sundays, I serve on the Church Council (I'm preparing for my 5th term over 20 years as church moderator), and we volunteer with grocery distribution at the church once a month. 

We have a few firearms but don't get a chance to practice as much as we would like. 

We don't socialize much; we tend to our own lives and don't worry too much about others, unless there's something we can do to help folks.

My idea of fun is a quiet day reading a book, or when it gets warm, working out in the garden a bit. 

I'm boring and probably personally more traditional than many people who claim to be for "traditional values" these days.

But, I'm a big believer in "you do you, I'll do me." I have no desire to force my way of life on others (and I don't want others to tell me what to do). If you're not harming me, I'll leave you alone. If you're offending my sensibilities, I'll probably turn away. But in any instance, I'll try not to be unkind, and if I am unintentionally so, I'll feel bad for a long time. 

The culture wars in our country and my state seem to me to be tearing us apart. If you don't believe what I do, you're evil. Both "sides" (to the extent that one can identify discrete sides) in the culture war engage in this. 

Take for example, the recent debate in Nebraska regarding gender-affirming care for transsexual youth (LB574). 

Proponents say that they're trying to protect kids (and that the opponents want to mutilate them). 

Opponents say that they're trying to protect kids (and that the proponents are engaged in genocide 0f the trans community). 

I get it. Everyone is protecting the kids (in their own eyes), and has to use the most extreme language possible as they seek to win the argument. 

But maybe--just maybe--there's a way to protect the kids--without denying that some have very real issues that may need to be addressed, and also minimizing the chance that permanent damage is done. That way will never show itself and be considered as long as we demonize one another, though. 

An idea, instead of the current absolute prohibition idea (thanks to a friend for starting me down this path with the transplant analogy):

1) Require hospitals where any gender reassignment surgery is done to create an internal review board (of sorts), consisting of at least 5 members across multiple healthcare specialties (including mental health) to meet with and assess the appropriateness for any gender reassignment surgery for a minor. Include an assessment of not only the child, but the parental support. Require a report from each member, with a signature, to be put into the file. They can recommend that the surgeries proceed, that they be delayed, that further treatment take place (hormones, counseling, etc.), and the question is reassessed. We don't arrest doctors, but we put barriers up to ensure that a TEAM takes on the accountability for consequences. And yes, I'm pretty sure that's already the case, but we could formalize it a little more.

2) For puberty blockers and hormonal treatments (pre-surgical actions), there could be a modified review--maybe not as extensive, but one which requires recommendations and assent to treatment be in the record of minors. 

These suggestions won't make either side happy, but they would mark a step in the right direction for the current bill proponents, without leaving the opponents feeling like they've lost everything. They also--I suspect--would cause medical professionals to give it a little more thought before they start moving in that direction with their patients, without taking away all hope.

Parents can still help their kids make choices, but with additional layers of caution thrown in to help assure that hasty ( or faddish ) decisions aren't being made that can't be reversed. 

While I was in the Legislature, my colleagues and I tried to pass legislation that would guarantee that juveniles would have an attorney assigned to them upon arrest. Objections (mostly from senators no longer there) took on something of an "if you do the crime, you do the time" attitude. A recent Judiciary Committee hearing I attended (LB135, which would assure that police officers not lie to juveniles) found one of the senators suggesting that if they weren't guilty, there was nothing to worry about. 

And yet, the same conservative proponents argue that minors' brains aren't mature enough to make these life-altering decisions (gender change). Is there some sort of scale for when a minor can make a life-altering decision? At 15, you can't begin gender-affirming care, but you can confess to a crime because of police deceiving you? Those things are different, but the principle is sort of the same. If they're kids, then they're kids. If they're teenagers needing parental guidance (or state protection), then don't they need it all of the time? 

Can we all agree that these young people need support and guidance? Can we agree that no matter how strongly they feel about something today, they might change their minds tomorrow? Most of us who have raised children know that some of our kids are mature far beyond their years, even in their early teens, and likewise, that some still have a lot of growing to do, even into their twenties. 

We think that parents should be involved in education, picking curriculum, choosing the schools their kids attend, and so on (and as a former school board member, former member of the legislature's education committee, parent, and grandparent, I agree). But if parents are to be the final deciders in those things, then shouldn't they at least have a say--in consultation with many healthcare professionals (and realistically, probably their insurance)--in allowing their children to enter a treatment path that some of us may not be comfortable with? After all, they know their kids best, right? I've heard that many times in connection with school choice. Is this a different universe of parents?

This issue, like so many of the so-called culture war issues, is full of nuance. In lots of cases, the correct answer is "it depends." 

Government entities are terrible at putting these things in the law because the government assumes that everyone is the same and should follow the same rules all the time on matters regarding their own lives. It assumes that there is only one right answer, but in these broad questions of individual liberties and culture, there may be as many right answers as there are people.

Likewise, what is (or should be) the role of government? The public good--whatever that is? Protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public? As we saw with Covid requirements, interpretation of what protection should look like varied greatly. 

Setting up a framework for decision-making--without an outright ban--may be a legitimate function for public policy. But prohibition doesn't seem to work with much of anything. Alcohol? Drugs? And even though alcohol is a legal substance for adults (like gender-affirming care would be once one reached 19), consumption of it for those over 16, in a parent's home, in the presence of parents, is an exception to the rule of minors and alcohol in Nebraska (Nebraska Revised Statutes ยง53-180.02).

Good policy is hard work. It requires thinking through who it hurts as well as who it helps. It requires being willing to negotiate, and not just getting the "win." And it requires being willing to put yourself in your opponents' shoes, and trying to look at things the way they might. Not necessarily agreeing, but at least attempting to understand and empathize a little. 



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