ABOVE: Freedom Oklahoma marches for LGBTQ rights. Photo by Stephanie Montelongo via Freedom Oklahoma’s Facebook page.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) | Leaders in conservative Oklahoma say they are looking for more legislative progress for LGBTQ people this year after notable strides in 2019.
Tulsa and Oklahoma City updated their personnel policies to ban discrimination against city employees based on gender identity or expression, The Oklahoman reported. Norman, meanwhile, went further and became the first city in the state to amend its civil rights ordinance to ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment or public accommodations.
Oklahoma City also elected its first openly gay council member, and the mayor declared the city’s first official Pride Week to celebrate LBGTQ accomplishments.
Allie Shinn, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, an advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, said 2019 was a “landmark year.” A top priority in the legislative session that begins in February is pushing for a ban on the widely discredited practice of “conversion therapy,” used to try to force people to be heterosexual.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers met in October to study the harmful effects of conversion therapy. A bill banning the practice was introduced in 2019 and got no traction, but it could be considered this year. At least 19 states have banned the practice, including other conservative states like Utah.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Shinn said. “It’s simply: Do you support child abuse or not?”
James Cooper, who was elected Oklahoma City’s first openly gay councilman, sponsored the resolution to update municipal personnel policies. He said he has worked to meet needs of all his constituents.
“I think this last year has taught me that when we speak the common language of what makes a neighborhood safe and sound [for everyone] then we’re speaking a common language that breaks all barriers.”
One of the neighborhoods expected to soon see safety upgrades is the 39th Street District, home to businesses catering to LGBTQ clientele plus the annual Pride parade and festival. The stretch of road draws tourists to a hotel that bills itself as the largest gay resort in the Southwest and because it was once part of historic Rouge 66 that connected Chicago to Los Angeles.
Enhancements to 39th Street will include upgraded sidewalks, trees, crosswalks and lighting.