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LGBTQ Activists Concerned About Bills Affecting Transgender, Gay And Lesbian Oklahomans

two gay men holding hands
Alan Light
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Community and faith leaders in Oklahoma are speaking out against more than two dozen bills they say target the lesbian, gay, and transgender community.

"There’s one that would bar transgender people from using the bathroom in public,” said Troy Stevenson, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma. “There’s one that stipulates removing education funding from any school system that has protections for the transgender community. There’s one that allows refusal of service to any person based on discrimination.”

Two of those bills are authored by state Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow. Senate Bill 1014 deals with the restroom issue, and Senate Bill 1328 allows individuals to refuse service regarding marriage, lifestyle, or behavior if it contradicts their religious beliefs.

"These hateful attacks have no place in a society that prides itself on the values of equality and freedom. Legislative leaders have shown us that they can exercise their authority and kill these bills tomorrow. We call on them to not only kill these bills again, but to publicly add their voice to the fight against bigotry," American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma executive director Ryan Kiesel said in a statement. "Make no mistake, any failure by legislative leadership to speak out against these intolerant measures will mark them as co-conspirators in this discriminatory campaign against LGBTQ Oklahomans and their allies.”

Stevenson said they won't know which legislation has traction until the bills are assigned to committees later this week. He said the push is led by only a small handful of lawmakers, and the upcoming session that starts Monday isn’t the time to focus on social issues.

“I think most of our Senators and Representatives would rather this stop immediately,” Stevenson said. “We’ve got a billion-dollar shortfall that already has Draconian cuts to education, highway funding, and everything else. And this is what they want to bring to the floor of the legislature. If any of these were to pass, it would immediately go into litigation and cost millions of dollars.”

There’s also concern Oklahoma could suffer the same type of economic repercussions as Indiana. A report obtained by the Associated Press says the Hoosier State may have lost as much as $60 million in revenue after a dozen conventions picked cities other than Indianapolis.

The Indiana capital was passed over after national backlash over a law signed by Gov. Mike Pence critics say sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians on religious grounds, the AP’s Brian Slodysko writes:

Lawmakers hastily made changes days later, after the NCAA, the gamer convention GenCon and other business interests raised the possibility of moving events, but critics said the law still doesn't go far enough to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. The findings by Visit Indy are among the first to quantify the law's financial effect, an impact that social conservatives have skeptically downplayed. Visit Indy also is among several prominent Indiana business voices advocating for statewide protections for anyone fired from a job, denied service or evicted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I think Indianapolis and Oklahoma City are very similar cities. That’s the same kind of conference revenue that would be lost here,” Stevenson said. “I think it also costs millions of legal fees for the state to fight pieces of unconstitutional legislation as they’ve done so many times in the past.”

Stevenson said there are no state-level protections for members of the LGBTQ community. Earlier this month Oklahoma City added sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in the city’s fair housing ordinance. After the January 6 city council meeting, Mayor Mick Cornett told KWTV-TV he thinks discrimination is fundamentally wrong.

“To a certain extent this has to do with the image of the city,” Cornett said in an interview. “Are we a city that’s accepting? A city that’s open-minded? I believe we are.”

Norman and Tulsa both passed similar protections in 2015.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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