"We're going on the offense" for transgender Oklahomans

Rev. Lori Walke, left, Troy Stevenson, center, and Paula Sophia, immediate right. Photo by Sara Ritsch.

by Sara Ritsch
Staff Writer

(Oklahoma City, OK) - Today, Freedom Oklahoma held a press conference to discuss Oklahoma’s own transgender bathroom bill, which was finally ‘flushed’ on Tuesday, May 24 after a day of scandal at the Capitol.

Senate Bill 1619 failed on a tie vote in the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget due to the threat of severe economic damage.

The bill would have required school districts to provide separate restrooms for students who object to sharing restrooms with transgender students.

Legislative maneuvering surrounded the discussion of SB 1619, when Freedom Oklahoma was told that the Oklahoma State House of Representatives would not move the bill forward this session.

Within the hour, the bill was resurrected in a sly move by the Joint Committee. In a few biting hours of discussion the vote was finally tied, failing the motion.

First to take the floor at the press conference was Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma’s Troy Stevenson, who called this maneuver “opportunism” and a “distraction in the name of politics,” as legislators “held the budget hostage to hurt a bunch of [transgender] kids.”

“Transgender youth are the victims. We’re shaming the victims in this situation,” he said. “We’re putting the budget on the backs of those kids.”

He announced that Freedom Oklahoma and the Oklahoma affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are teaming up by starting an initiative called Oklahoma Competes, ensuring that future legislation like this does not come to pass.

“Were going on the offense. We’re not gonna take it anymore,” he said.

Earlier this session, 27 anti-LGBTQ bills were defeated in the Oklahoma legislature. But as Stevenson said, “Bringing this back gave us the opportunity to reach out…corporations don’t want to come to states that propagate hate.”

Paula Sophia, an Oklahoman and transgender activist, took the stage to discuss for a moment exactly “what it’s like to be transgender.”

“It’s…being a small child looking at mom and dad and thinking I can grow up to be a woman,” she began. “Being transgender is getting beat up and crying behind the grocery store.”

She went on through her tears to express a life of inner turmoil; raising a family as a biological male, joining the military, joining the police force, being ordained and then finally coming out as a woman – telling her truth, and risking it all.

“Being transgender is finally telling the truth about who I am.”

Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director of  ACLU Oklahoma, said that SB 1619 and its process was “shameful, embarrassing and despicable – that legislators would use the children of Oklahoma as political pawns to divert attention away from the fact that they [lawmakers] are literally running our state into the ground.”

He assured the press that transgender students are depending on their state’s legislators to protect them and to ensure that they can be who they are in a safe environment. But, he said, “our legislators…have become the attackers."

He continued on, “We will ensure that the pain those children feel, that they [lawmakers] experience a fraction of it at the ballot box. Attempts like these will not be unanswered. They’ve got champions they can depend on. We will be tireless in our efforts.”

Alyssa Bryant, an attorney from Tulsa and a member of Oklahomans for Equality began by saying, “Yes, transgender people can also be lawyers.”

She explained that discrimination on the basis of sex is a legal question and covered under Title IX, which extends to gender identity.

“More than 15 and half million [LGBT students] have been going to school without incidence because of Title IX,” she said. “As a transgender American, as a lawyer, as a parent of four children, I urge a more considerate approach.”

But Title IX exemptions due to religious beliefs are attainable, and Reverend Lori Walke of Mayflower Congregational Church touched on just that subject.

“I’m confused about how a cisgender student’s religious beliefs or practices can be thwarted or thrown off by sharing space with a transgender student. It has yet to have been explained to me how that is a violation of someone’s religious practice and belief.”

Although all pieces of legislation seem to still be viable until tomorrow’s conclusion of the session, this “shameful” bill will forever be unforgivable in the minds of transgender children, Oklahomans, activists, Freedom Oklahoma and ACLU Oklahoma. And they will not stop fighting it and legislation like it.

“There is a long history of segregation in this country,” as Stevenson said. “Separate but equal has never worked, and it doesn’t work now.”

The Gayly - 5/26/2016 @ 4:49 p.m. CDT