‘Exhausted, terrified, angry’: LGBT+ advocates condemn Oklahoma law banning trans athletes from women’s sports

Governor Kevin Stitt signs law joining nationwide legislative campaign targeting transgender youth

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 30 March 2022 16:17 BST
Oklahoma Representative Mauree Turner speaks out against anti-LGBT bills
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Transgender athletes in Oklahoma will be banned from participating in school sports that correspond with their gender under a measure signed into law by the state’s Republican Governor Kevin Stitt.

The bill is the fourth such measure within the last week to be signed into law, as GOP legislators and conservative Christian lobbyists pursue a nationwide campaign targeting LGBT+ Americans, with a majority of bills aimed at transgender youth.

In a signing ceremony on 30 March surrounded by children holding signs reading “save women’s sports,” the governor said the law is “just common sense.”

“When it comes to sports and athletics, girls should compete against girls. Boys should compete against boys,” he said. “That’s all this bill says.”

The “Save Women’s Sports Act” prohibits transgender athletes from kindergarten through high school and in universities from participating in female sports teams or individual women’s sporting events.

Last week, legislators in Arizona and Kentucky passed similar legislation banning transgender youth from participating in girls’ sports. Utah legislators moved to override the governor’s veto on a similar bill. In 2021, nine states enacted similar bans.

Governor Stitt and state legislators could not say whether any transgender athletes are competing in the women’s sports in the state.

Oklahoma legislators have also approved a bill that expands the definition of “obscene material” to include books or media containing “depictions or descriptions of sexual conduct which are patently offensive as found by a reasonable person,” which opponents argue could be used to target LGBT+ content.

Legislators also approved a measure that prohibits residents from obtaining birth certificates with nonbinary gender markers, a directive from the governor’s office after the Oklahoma State Health Department complied with a court order to allow a California resident born in Oklahoma to amend their birth certificate with a nonbinary gender marker.

In a statement following last year’s legal battle, Governor Stitt said he believes that “people are created by God to be male or female” and that “there is no such thing as nonbinary sex.”

Oklahoma state Rep Mauree Turner, the first openly gender non-conforming state legislator in the US, urged the governor and state legislators to reject measures aimed at LGBT+ residents during a press conference on 29 March.

Rep Turner, who uses they/them pronouns, came out to their mother while in second grade with the support of a “loving and affirming home family.”

“I also didn’t envision a life beyond high school, which resulted in a lot of self-harm, and that was with the support of home,” said Rep Turner, speaking through tears. “That was without seeing legislation continuously telling me – written by adults, leaders in our community – continuously telling me I didn’t have a place here.”

Rep Turner added: “I used to think when I was a kid, what difference does it make if I have a supportive home … if I’m not welcome as I am at school or at church? And now, a supportive home is the best place I can fall at the end of a day here.”

Nicole McAfee, executive director of advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma, said LGBT+ residents are “exhausted, terrified, angry.”

“It’s unacceptable,” they said in a statement. “Trans girls are girls. Nonbinary Oklahomans exist. Having representation of gender and sexual diversity available to young folks is not obscene, but efforts to not only censor it but criminalize it certainly are.”

On Wednesday, McAfee called on the governor to “show a level of political courage that is necessary for this moment.”

“Oklahoma kids are not a political bargaining chip,” they said. “The only emergency here is [there are] transgender, two-spirt and gender non-conforming children here in Oklahoma are trying their hardest to survive in conditions that are so unwelcoming they are not sure they can live another day of it.”

In its 2019 national school survey, LGBT+ anti-discrimination organisation GLSEN found that a “vast majority” of Oklahoma students heard anti-LGBT+ remarks, with roughly one-third of respondents regularly hearing homophobic remarks from school staff and nearly half negative remarks about someone’s gender expression.

Most respondents (60 per cent) never reported the incident to school staff, and only 21 per cent of LGBT+ students who reported incidents said it resulted in effective staff intervention, according to the report.

More than 320 bills that would impact LGBT+ Americans are under consideration in state legislatures across the US, with roughly one-third of those bills directly targeting transgender people, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Roughly half of those bills prohibit transgender youth from participating in school sports.

As the Oklahoma bill made its way through the legislature, one Democratic legislator filed an amendment to name it the “Oklahoma Enhanced Discrimination in Sports Without Evidence of a Problem Act.” It failed.

Sarah Cunningham, founder of LGBT+ advocacy group Free Mom Hugs and the mother of a gay child, said she was initially “frozen in my fear and ignorance of not understanding what it means to be gay” when her son told her he is gay.

She urged the governor to “get educated” and “actually spend some time with our transgender community in Oklahoma”.

“Until then, the bills we’re discussing today are born out of fear and ignorance,” she said.

Oklahoma activist Kendra Wilson-Clements, a two-spirit member of Choctaw Nation, also urged state legislators to cease movement on other legislation aimed at LGBT+ residents.

“Who are we if we don’t support and protect our kids?” added Sarah Adams-Cornell, a member of Choctaw Nation. “This kind of legislation … spirals. Today it’s sports. What’s next? Stop making it harder for our kids to survive in Oklahoma.”

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