Oklahoma Listed as High Priority in New Study on LGBTQ+ Equality
Oklahoma has been ranked among 28 states in the lowest category for LGBTQ+ equality in the 2018 State Equality Index released by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute on Jan. 31.
This study is specifically focusing on the lack of state laws and policies that impact LGBTQ+ individuals and their families in Oklahoma and the other 27 states that received a similar ranking. Each state has received a scorecard that rates states based on parenting laws; hate crimes and criminal justice laws; non-discrimination laws; religious refusal and relationship recognition; youth laws; health and safety laws; and annual progress.
According to the study, the results are meant to assess how well states are protecting LGBTQ+ individuals and their families from discrimination, because there are currently no comprehensive civil rights protections for LGBTQ individuals at the federal level.
“I think it’s important for Oklahomans to continue move to forward to work for a state level anti-discrimination policy, that includes both sexual orientation and gender expression and identity,” said David Macey, UCO assistant vice president for Global and Cultural competencies. “A number of states have such policies, a growing number; some Oklahoma organizations and institutions and many private organizations in the state already do, UCO does.”
Oklahoma, along with the other 27 lowly ranked states, are ranking in the category, “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality,” and according to Oklahoma’s scorecard this is due, in part, to a lack of laws and policies. However, the state is also ranked as having bad bills present or proposed. These are bills that restrict protections, equality and or civil rights for LGBTQ+ Oklahomans.
According to the annual reports section of the State Equality Index scorecard, there has been a spike of bad bills that were introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature, with 30 introduced in 2016 and 22 in 2018. According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Oklahoma’s adoption law was one of the bad bills that was introduced last year, which the scorecard indicated as “anti-LGBTQ.”
Macey said there are several ways to look at this ranking for Oklahoma. As a member of LGBTQ+ community and an active campaigner for LGBTQ+ civil rights, Macey said the ranking is disappointing. However, Macey said he is also aware of the tremendous amount of positive change that has taken place over the last two years.
“I think we are making progress,” Macey said. “I think that this ranking from the Human Rights Campaign is probably more than anything a reminder and a challenge that we need to not just sit back and say the battle is won, but say we really need to continue working for equal civil rights for all Oklahomans of all sexual identities and gender identities and expressions.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation there are roughly 10 million LGBTQ adults in the U.S., or roughly 4.1 percent of the population. A study done by the Williams Institute in 2017 shows that 99,000 LGBTQ individuals live in Oklahoma and there are 6,100 same-sex couples.
“I think this is a very disturbing ranking since marginalization and discrimination/non acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals is linked to many negative health outcomes, including increased risk of suicide,” said Lindsey Churchill, director for the Women’s Research Center and BGLTQ+ Student Center at UCO.
The results of the study show that in 30 states, LGBTQ+ individuals remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who they are. According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, as a result of this finding, the incoming pro-equality majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has made the Equality Act a top priority.
The House of Representatives’ Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Equality Act in 2017. According to the Equality Act, H.R. 2282, this legislation would provide LGBTQ+ individuals with non-discrimination for protections for employment, housing, public facilities and services, education, credit and jury service. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to begin considering the Equality Act soon.
According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the legislation also amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination in public spaces and services and federally funded programs on the basis of sex and would update the public spaces and services covered in current law to include retail stores, services such as banks and legal services, and transportation services.
“On a very basic level the state could enact laws to protect against discrimination and open up adoption so we can serve the thousands of children in Oklahoma who would appreciate a loving home,” Churchill said.
Macey said he thinks in many ways UCO is the most LGBTQ+ inclusive and supportive institution of higher learning in the state, but there is still work to do. He said right now they are in the process of making UCO’s facilities, policies and programs more inclusive.
Another measure Macey said will be introduced at a later time is a change that will be more inclusive of transgender individuals. Students will be able to indicate their chosen name and preferred pronoun in Ellucian Banner, often referred to as Banner by UCO faculty and staff, the university’s database system that provides critical data for all student and university information.
For students who want to get involved in making change happen in the state, there are a number of organizations in the state and on campus that focus on that end.
“A good starting point on LGBTQ+ issues would be to connect with the Student Alliance for Equality, our student LGBTQ+ group; to connect with UCO’s LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff Association; and also to work with the Women’s Outreach Center and BGLTQ+ Student Center, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which will be able to provide lots of information and resources and networking, and is already working on a number of these issues,” Macey said.