The powerhouses behind the LGBT+ community of Oklahoma

From l to r, Mary Arbuckle, Executive Director of Other Options Inc., Sara Cunningham of Free Mom Hugs, Kelley Blair Executive Director of the Diversity Center of Oklahoma, Lori Honeycutt, President of OKC Pride, Toby Jenkins, Executive Director at Oklahomans for Equality and Robin Dorner, Editor in Chief of The Gayly.

by Jordan Redman

The LGBT+ community of Oklahoma is composed of vastly different individuals – of all shapes, sizes, religions, political affiliations and sexual orientations. The strength in our diversity is seen in our ability to come together despite those differences. It is a message of unity inspired by our leadership.

Who are those leaders? I’ll name a few. By all means, this is not a comprehensive list of all the LGBT+ leaders, and I respect everyone who contributes to our progress and success. These are the people who stand out in my mind as leaders of the community.

Mary Arbuckle, Executive Director of Other Options Inc., Sara Cunningham of Free Mom Hugs, Kelley Blair Executive Director of the Diversity Center of Oklahoma, Lori Honeycutt, President of OKC Pride, Toby Jenkins, Executive Director at Oklahomans for Equality, and last, but certainly not least, Robin Dorner, Editor in Chief of The Gayly.

Other Options, Inc. provides food, resources, services, and education to at-risk individuals and families with a focus on those affected by HIV and AIDS. The Friends Food Pantry at Other Options is the only free food source in the 405 and 580 area codes for people living with HIV in Oklahoma.

“Being part of the Oklahoma LGBTQ community means being a part of something greater than myself. It’s about sharing, mentoring and just being who I am and being able to share my experiences,” said Arbuckle. “We are in a unique moment for LGBTQ equality.

“To be not only part of LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS community and seeing I can have a real impact on policy and people's lives. If I can save one life or make an impact on one person I feel what I do makes a difference!”

Free Mom Hugs is an organization for mom's who love LGBT+ kids. They are currently operating under the umbrella of Expressions Community Center in Oklahoma City.

Sara Cunningham’s appreciation for the LGBT+ community began during the 2014 OKC Pride parade. She joined in support of her son, Parker.

“Being a parent, friend and ally to the LGBT+ community is teaching me how to show up and stand beside in the easy and hard things,” said Cunningham. “Every day I am inspired to serve and advocate for this beautiful, spirit-filled and often misunderstood community. They have received me and walking alongside and working together has made me a better human being. I feel it.”

The Diversity Center of Oklahoma’s mission is to reduce barriers in the gender diverse community and their families by providing quality mental health treatment and services, education, prevention and resources. They also strive to enhance the number of mental health professionals with professional skills and knowledge in prevention, recognition, assessment and treatment of gender diverse populations.

“Being a part of our gender diverse & LGBTQ community is very much like being part of a huge family,” said Kelley Blair, Executive Director of the center. “Each member of the community are prisms of the larger rainbow. All unique in our own way and just as important the next person.

“The beauty in our community inspires me to advocate for equitable rights related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies. Sometimes that means taking an assertive stand against injustice so our community has a safe, positive, and nurturing environment to explore their part of the rainbow.”

Blair has been the organization’s leader since 2015.

OKC Pride’s main events commence on June 22-24. The Pride board had a little over four months to pull everything together after a change in leadership earlier this year. In her newly appointed position as the OKC Pride President, Lori Honeycutt made it her mission to build up the community.

“Community is the heart of everything,” said Honeycutt. “I feel as if we stand together as a community, we are one strong force. The dynamics of our community change daily, but we all have to remember the main reason we are here today is because of love.”

Based in Tulsa, Oklahomans for Equality (OkEq) seeks equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families through advocacy, education, programs, alliances and the operation of the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center.

“The thermometer of your success is not your awards, not how much money you raise, a nice building, or even your stellar programs. The thermometer of your success, is the community we’re serving showing up and saying ‘how can I help? How can I volunteer?’” Jenkins said. 

“Working with Toby is a roller coaster of perseverance, sweat, setback and joy, but it's a ride I wouldn't forgo even if I could,” said Sharon Bishop-Baldwin, Vice President of the Board of Directors of Oklahomans for Equality. “Toby is one of my best friends, and he's far from perfect; no one knows that better than he does. But here's the thing about Toby: No one will work harder, walk more miles, hold more hands, make more phone calls, meet with more lawmakers, arrange help for more members of the community, or dole out more praise to the people working around him. Toby might not get it right every single time, but no one will try harder never to make the same mistake twice.”

If you’re reading this, I hope you know what The Gayly is, right? If you don’t, we’re a media source covering LGBT+ community topics, events and news in the South-Central region.

Robin Dorner has been the Editor in Chief and co-publisher of The Gayly since 2011. She is also on the board of Other Options Inc. and the Diversity Business Association.

Gary Shelton, a fellow member of Diversity Business Association (DBA), said, “DBA is a wonderful organization focused on LGBT+ business owners, employees and allies who want to see greater diversity thrive in the business community.”

He added, “Robin Dorner has worked diligently in the past as well as serving on the current board. Her areas of expertise have added a much needed, strength in the restructuring of DBA. Her insight into the past organization has given us a much needed, foundation to move the organization forward and thriving.

“I appreciate Robin as a member of the board and as my friend. She is a wonderful person, with a heart of gold and a larger than life personality.”

To our current leaders, I admire and appreciate you. To our past leaders, thank you for paving the way for us today.

Copyright The Gayly. June 14, 2018. 3:24 p.m. CST.