Professor emphasizes solidarity as Anti-LGBTQ+ bills increase in Oklahoma

Students who walked out of classes last Friday chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Ryan Walters has got to go” while they marched across the UCO campus. (VICTOR LOPEZ/THE VISTA)

University of Central Oklahoma students marched from the College of Liberal Arts building to Old North on Friday, staging a walkout in protest of the recent death of a non-binary student in Owasso.
“It’s about solidarity,” said UCO Professor of Political Science Cornel Pewewardy, “It’s about looking at all the people that have been trashed and trivialized in mainstream society.”
Like Owasso student Nex Benedict, who died after a confrontation with fellow students, Pewewardy is a Native American. He performed a remembrance song at the walkout in honor of Benedict.
Throughout the protest, many students were shouting chants like “Hey hey, ho ho, Ryan Walters has got to go,” “Tom Woods has got to go,” “Justice for Nex” and “Protect trans kids.”
While the official cause of death has not been released, multiple investigations are ongoing, including one led by the U.S. Department of Education.


Advocacy groups have been pressuring officials to continue investigating the claims that the event was a hate crime following a rise in anti-trans hate across the country. According to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), hate crimes related to sexual orientation made up 17.2% of all hate crimes in 2022, and hate crimes related to gender identity made up 4%. This is up 2.3% and 1% respectively from the 2021 statistics. The 2023 statistics have yet to be released.
“It is normalizing the abuse, it is normalizing the discrimination, it is normalizing the prejudice against them,” said UCO professor of sociology Leeda Copley when discussing why there has been a rise in hate crimes against the transgender community.
Copley goes on to talk about the use of culture war rhetoric in politics and how it impacts our society, along with the media’s role in using clickbait as a form of content.
“It’s clickbait, this is what’s going to get people angry, this is what’s going to get people to watch,” said Copley. She goes on to discuss how politicians have begun using rhetoric that will help them get attention through the use of emotional outcry from the public.
A recent example of the culture war rhetoric making its way into politics is through State Senator Tom Woods’ recent comment saying, “I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma.”
Woods’ made this comment at an event in Tahlequah following Benedict’s death.


In response to Woods’ statement, Copley said, “If you’re going to be a politician, that means you are a public servant, and that means you need to serve the entire public.”
Copley goes on to talk about the rise of acceptance and tolerance for the LGBTQ+ community and how that may be a cause for some of the pushback.
According to a study conducted by the ACLU Oklahoma currently has 54 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in effect or advancing through legislation. This includes 17 which are directly related to K-12 education in Oklahoma.

Matt R., UCO Student, sits in silence as he listens to the guest speakers, Friday, March 1, 2024. (VICTOR LOPEZ/THE VISTA)

One of the bills recently introduced is HB 3120. This bill would see adjustments to curriculum on sex education, which would involve a classification of males and females based on biological sex and emphasize abstinence outside of heterosexual marriage.
Another bill introduced is HB 3135 which states, “A public school, charter school, technology center school or institution of higher education shall not use public funds to promote, encourage or provide instruction on topics related to sexual choice, sexual orientation, drag queens or similar topics in public educational institutions.”
If passed, these bills would threaten the funding of various organizations and clubs across both public schools and state-funded higher education institutions including UCO.

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