Executive Director – Freedom Oklahoma – (formerly The Equality Network/Cimarron Alliance Foundation)
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As anticipated, the 2015 legislative session is filled with vitriolic anti-gay and anti-transgender legislative proposals from a handful of discriminatory legislators. In an unprecedented merger, The Equality Network (Oklahoma’s statewide LGBT political advocacy organization) and The Cimarron Alliance Foundation (Oklahoma City’s most influential LGBT public education organization) have legally united to form Freedom Oklahoma. This union creates a single entity with the financial and political resources to field a powerful response to this historic legislative assault.
Today, Oklahoma LGBT leaders, clergy, business leaders, and supportive legislators will announce this major shift in Oklahoma LGBT advocacy – an aggressive response to this legislative avalanche. In addition to this statewide merger, two of the most powerful national LGBT rights organizations will join the fight – the Human Rights Campaign (HCR) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
The following quote can be attributed to Freedom Oklahoma executive director, Troy Stevenson:
“Our community is under attack, and is fighting back. We won marriage last year, and in retaliation, a tiny handful of lawmakers have lashed out at us with an unprecedented amount of discriminatory legislation. Freedom Oklahoma – along with our local and national partners – will not rest until all of this legislation is defeated. Together we are bigger. Together we are stronger. And together we will win!”
The harmful bills include: 1. an extremely dangerous pro-conversion “therapy” bill; 2. a bill giving businesses a broad and vague license to discriminate against LGBT people; 3. two bills providing special discrimination rights based on religious preference; and 4. five bills attacking marriage equality.
Representatives from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) issued the following statements strongly condemning the bills:
HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse: “These bills are nothing more than despicably vile direct attacks on LGBT Oklahomans and their families. It’s astounding that extreme anti-equality politicians are making such drastic attempts to harm LGBT families. We call on all fair-minded Oklahomans to stand up for equality and help stop these horrific bills.”
NCLR Staff Attorney and #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator Samantha Ames added: “The proposed bill to legalize the deadly practice of conversion therapy on LGBT children is shockingly irresponsible. All children deserve to be loved, accepted, and supported by their communities. Every day, we work with parents and families who deeply regret harming their children by trying to force them to change who they are. This horrifying bill is a wake-up call for Oklahoma and the entire country. There is no place in our communities for these dangerous practices, which have been condemned by every major medical and mental health association in the country.”
Background – the legislative slate:
1. Extremely Dangerous Pro-Conversion “Therapy” Bill
The ambiguously named “Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act,” filed by Republican State Representative Sally Kern, is an attempt to legitimize and provide special state protection to a dangerous and discredited practice that has been denounced by every major medical and mental health association in the country, including the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association.
HRC Senior Legislative Counsel Alison Gill said: “So-called conversion ‘therapy’ uses fear and shame, telling young people that the only way to find love or acceptance is to change the very nature of who they are. Psychological abuse has no place in therapy, no matter the intention, and for Oklahoma State Rep Kern to introduce this bill, using her stature to tell young people that who they are is bad or wrong, is both immoral and seriously harmful.”
“Conversion therapy,” sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts,” is a range of dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. These harmful practices are based on the false claim that being LGBT is a mental illness that can and should be cured. Unfortunately, young LGBT people are particularly vulnerable to being coerced into to these harmful practices, which can result in negative outcomes such as depression, substance abuse, suicidal ideations, and suicidal behavior.
HRC and NCLR have partnered with state equality groups to pass state legislation to end this dangerous pseudoscience, including laws passed in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. In August of 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s ban, which was signed into law by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown in 2012. In September of this year, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld New Jersey’s ban, which was signed into law by Republican Governor Chris Christie in August of 2013. NCLR attorneys have assisted in the defense of every state bill to date.
Freedom Oklahoma’s executive director, Troy Stevenson, led the legislative campaign to end the practice in the state of New Jersey in 2013 before returning to Oklahoma to lead The Equality Network and the newly formed Freedom Oklahoma.
More information on the lies and dangers of efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity can be found at www.NCLRights.org/BornPerfect.
2. Special License to Businesses who would Discriminate Against LGBT People
House Bill 1597, also filed by State Representative Kern, is similar to Arizona’s widely criticized and defeated “Turn Away the Gays” bill. It provides a special government-sanctioned license for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. The bill says businesses may discriminate by not providing “any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges related to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.” Additionally, it protects those who discriminate against LGBT people from any civil or criminal fines.
3. Special Discrimination Rights Based on Religious Preference
Although these bills are framed as religious protection bills, the misleading “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Reformation Act of 2015” and the “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act” actually provide special discrimination rights based upon religious preferences. Introduced by Republican Oklahoma State Senator Joseph Silk and Representative Chuck Strohm, these extreme bills go far beyond the religious protections already in Oklahoma’s laws to undermine basic fairness for LGBT people.
4. Bills Attacking Marriage Equality
House Bill 1599, called the “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act”, was filed by State Representative Kern and takes direct aim at stopping marriage equality in the state, saying: “No employee of this state and no employee of any local governmental entity shall officially recognize, grant or enforce a same-sex marriage license and continue to receive a salary, pension or other employee benefit at the expense of taxpayers of this state. No taxes or public funds of this state shall be spent enforcing any court order requiring the issuance or recognition of a same-sex marriage license.” Additionally the bill requires courts to dismiss “any challenge to any portion” of the bill.
Senate Bill 478, titled the “Protection of Religious Freedom in Sanctity of Marriage Act of 2015”, was filed by State Senator Corey Brooks, provides a broad carve out, allowing individuals and religious organizations to refuse to “provide any services, accommodations, [or] facilities,” solemnize, or even recognize any marriage or civil union based on their “sincerely held beliefs religious beliefs… regarding sex or gender.”
Finally, House Bill 1125, introduced by State Representative Todd Russ, seeks to do away with marriage licenses altogether rather than recognize legal same-sex marriages in Oklahoma. Instead, the court clerks would simply file marriage certificates that recognize common law marriages or marriage ceremonies.
Freedom Oklahoma is Oklahoma’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization and a proud member of the Equality Federation. Freedom Oklahoma is the unified organization resulting from the merger of The Equality Network, a 501 (c) (4) organization that lobbies for pro-equality legislation and public policies; and the Cimarron Alliance Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) organization engaging in public education in support of the LGBT community.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.