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

Oklahoma’s transgender athletes will be banned from participating in school sports appropriate to their gender under a measure signed into law by the state’s Republican Governor Kevin Stitt.

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

At a March 30 signing ceremony, surrounded by children holding signs that read “save women’s sport,” the governor said the law was “just common sense.”

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

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

Last week, lawmakers in Arizona and Kentucky passed similar legislation banning transgender youth from participating in women’s sports. Utah lawmakers decided to override the governor’s veto on a similar bill. As of 2021, nine states have enacted similar bans.

Governor Stitt and state lawmakers could not say if any transgender athletes were competing in women’s sports in the state.

Oklahoma lawmakers have also approved a bill that expands the definition of “obscene material” to include books or media containing “depictions or descriptions of sexual behavior that are manifestly offensive as found by a reasonable person.” , which opponents say could be used to target LGBT+ people. contents.

Lawmakers also approved a measure that bars residents from obtaining birth certificates with non-binary gender markers, a directive from the governor’s office after the Oklahoma State Department of Health complied with a court order allowing a California resident born in Oklahoma to alter his birth certificate with a non-binary marker. gender marker.

In a statement following last year’s legal battle, Governor Stitt said he believes “people are created by God to be male or female” and that “non-binary sex does not does not exist”.

Oklahoma State Rep. Mauree Turner, the first openly gender-nonconforming state legislator in the United States, has urged the governor and state lawmakers to reject measures targeting LGBT+ residents at a press conference on March 29.

Rep Turner, who uses the pronouns they/them, came out to his mother when he was in second grade with the support of a “loving and assertive family of origin”.

“I also couldn’t imagine a life beyond high school, which involved a lot of self-harm, and that was with the support of home,” Rep. Turner said, speaking through tears. “It was without seeing the legislation continually telling me – written by adults, leaders in our community – continually telling me that I didn’t belong 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 like I am at home. school or church? And now a support house is the best place I can fall at the end of a day here.

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

“This is unacceptable,” they said in a statement. “Trans girls are girls. Non-binary Oklahomans do exist. Having representation of gender and sexual diversity available to young people 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 needed at this time.”

“Oklahoma’s children are not a political bargaining chip,” they said. “The only emergency here is [there are] The transgender, Two-Spirit, and gender-nonconforming kids here in Oklahoma are doing their best to survive in conditions so unwelcoming they’re not sure they’ll live another day.

In its 2019 National Schools Survey, LGBT+ anti-discrimination organization GLSEN found that a “vast majority” of Oklahoma students had heard anti-LGBT+ remarks, with about a third of respondents hearing regular homophobic remarks from school staff and almost half negative remarks about someone. gender expression.

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

More than 320 bills that would impact LGBT+ Americans are being considered in state legislatures across the United States, with about a third of those bills directly targeting transgender people, according to Human Rights. Campaign.

About half of these bills ban transgender youth from participating in school sports.

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

Sarah Cunningham, founder of LGBT+ advocacy group Free Mom Hugs and 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 said he was gay.

She urged the governor to “educate himself” and “spend time with our transgender community in Oklahoma.”

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

Oklahoma activist Kendra Wilson-Clements, a Two-Spirit member of the Choctaw Nation, also urged state lawmakers to stop moving on other laws targeting LGBT+ residents.

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

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