200-plus crowd at Oklahoma Capitol protests lawmaker’s anti-gay speech
OKLAHOMA CITY — Henderson resident Linda Polley was spending her spring break with lesbian friends in Oklahoma when she heard about the anti-gay statements made by state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican. Sporting a rainbow "Texans support GLBT Oklahomans" T-shirt, Polley stood next to her neighbors from the north at a protest rally in the Capitol rotunda on Tuesday, March 18.
"Her remarks are God-awful. I am a straight person, and I am embarrassed for all of America for having someone like that in office. She couldn’t even retract her words," Polley said. "I think it not only portrays a bad image for Oklahoma, it portrays a bad image for the country. We are the United States. We can’t be 49 states and Oklahoma. We are one for all."
Polley was one of more than 200 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Oklahomans and their supporters who crowded around the official state seal on the first floor of the Capitol this week to call for an apology from Kern.
Kern made national headlines earlier this month when the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based political action group, released a secretly recorded portion of a speech where Kern said, "Gays represent a greater threat to the country than terrorism or Islam."
Kern delivered her speech to a gathering of about 50 Republicans in her Oklahoma City district.
The Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards, president of the Oklahoma City chapter of PFLAG, was one of the speakers at Tuesday’s rally.
"We are here today because we believe so fervently in the self worth and dignity of each of God’s children, including our LGBT community, that we are willing to stand up and say, ‘No more,’" Newton-Edwards said. "This kind of bigotry has lasted too long, and we are willing to stand here today because we believe that the message of love cannot be repeated too often."
The rally and press conference were designed to get further attention from Oklahoma lawmakers who have been largely silent on the issue.
Most lawmakers were not in the capitol on Tuesday although the legislature is in session.
Sources said that Kern was escorted off the capitol grounds by security shortly before the rally, citing fear for her safety. Kern said previously that she had received death threats after her comments became so widely publicized. But the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was been unable to verify the claims.
Despite receiving thousands of e-mails and hundreds of phone calls, Kern has stood by her statements, remaining largely silent on the issue and granting only a few interviews.
Kern did not respond to repeated calls for comment for this story. However, she did release a statement last week: "To put this simply, as a Christian I believe homosexuality is not moral. Obviously, you have the right as an American to choose that lifestyle, but I also have the right to express my views and my fellow Oklahomans have the right to debate these issues."
Kern made headlines in 2006 when she authored legislation that would require Oklahoma libraries to restrict access to books about homosexuality, including children’s books such as "King and King," which features a story about two princes who fall in love.
Rob Howard, executive director of The Cimarron Alliance, an Oklahoma City-based human rights organization, also spoke at the rally.
"How brave is it for a lawmaker of our state to suggest that an entire community of her fellow citizens are a bigger threat than terrorism?" Howard said. "How can Rep. Kern sing about the land of the free and impugn another’s religion? How can she swear to uphold the Constitution and say that not all religions are equal? It is words like hers that send a message to people who are motivated by hate."
Historically, Oklahoma lawmakers have been reluctant to support gay rights initiatives. In 2004, more than 70 percent of voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
More recently, the federal courts overturned a anti-gay adoption bill that would have stripped all same-sex couples of parental rights in adoptions. This law would have also applied to any couple simply traveling through the state.
"For 30 years, LGBT Oklahomans have endured a relentless assault on our civil liberties. Public figures from former Miss Oklahoma Anita Bryant to State Rep. Sally Kern have flogged the LGBT community from the pulpit to the courts and in this very building," said Tulsa-based Oklahomans for Equality President Laura Belmonte, another rally speaker. "Today we say enough and stand in dignity and solidarity for ourselves, for our loved ones and for the future of a better Oklahoma."
Last year, Oklahoma City native Steven Domer was allegedly murdered in an anti-gay "chip ritual" by a member of the Aryan Nation. The crime has renewed pressure for a comprehensive state hate crimes law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
Democratic legislators submitted four bills but all are expected to die in committee.
Kern, a former school teacher and the wife of a Baptist minister, has asserted that her opinion is based on Biblical teachings and represents the views of most Oklahoma residents. Local religious leaders refuted that statement at the rally on Tuesday.
"Rep. Kern has the First Amendment by her side if she chooses to be a selective Biblical literalist," said the Rev. Robin Myers, pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City. "My reason for standing before you today is more than just to talk about this from a religious standpoint. I want to talk to people about it from a language standpoint.
"Kern has said that she is being unfairly condemned for having an opinion to which she is entitled, no matter how loathsome it is to the rest of us. If Sally Kern does not know what words do, or how language functions to permit violence against others, she needs to go back to school, but not back to teaching school," Myers said.
After the rally a small group ventured upstairs to Kern’s office to request a meeting — only to find that she had left for the day.
Jon Horinek is a staff writer for HNOKC.com
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 21, 2008