LGBT advocates in uproar ahead of Oklahoma legislative session

Posted on 28 Jan 2016 at 6:33pm
Oklahoma_State_Capitol

Oklahoma State Capitol

Oklahoma legislators have pre-filed more than two-dozen bills targeting the LGBT community ahead of Monday’s legislative session.

The 27 bills range from “religious freedom” bills allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals based on sincerely held religious beliefs to those banning transgender individuals from using bathrooms based on their gender identity, according to a database compiled by Freedom Oklahoma, one of the state’s LGBT advocacy groups.

“Oklahoma is regrettably leading the nation in the number of bills attacking LGBT people, their families, and visitors in the 2016 legislative session,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign.

According to the Enid News, activists are worried about a bill filed by notoriously anti-LGBT representative Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City.

House Bill 3044 would prohibit school counselors, therapists or any public school official from referring a student to information on human sexuality without first notifying the student’s parental or legal guardian.

Cynthia Stevison, chair of the Enid LGBT Coalition, questioned Kern’s proposal.

“It doesn’t make any sense why you would want to pass a law that would prohibit a counselor from talking to a student about anything that is bothering them, whatever it is that is bothering them,” Stevison said. “Why would you want to limit what counselors want to talk about?”

Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, agreed with Stevison.

“There aren’t a lot of outlets and places in rural Oklahoma for young people to get their questions answered,” Stevenson said. “Usually the only outlet is a school counselor or teacher.”

Oklahoma is just one of many states grappling with anti-LGBT legislation. Currently Indiana, South Dakota and West Virginia are also considering anti-LGBT legislation.

James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project, said activists might lose some battles in the state house. But many activists were prepared for these fights.

“We must remember that the battles we will face this year are not just about religion or transgender people. The opposition cannot simply say they don’t want LGBT people to have the same rights as everyone else, because most people would no longer agree with that. So they talk about religion and exploit transphobia,” Esseks said in a statement. “We must keep that in mind as we weather defeats that will come our way, arming ourselves with the knowledge that while we might lose some battles, we’re winning the war.”

Stevenson was more pointed, however.

If any of the legislation in his state passes, he said, they will certainly be challenged in court.

The Oklahoma legislative session begins Monday, Feb. 1 and ends Friday, May 27.

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