This year kicked off with almost 200 anti-LGBT bills working through state governments across the country. If this were a competition for which state could try to legalize the most bigotry against queer people, Oklahoma would be far in the lead with a record-breaking 27 bills, affectionately referred to as the Slate of Hate, on the table this session.
Faced with a daunting monolith of ignorance and loathing, Oklahoma’s LGBT community and their allies pulled together and got the damn thing done. That’s right: Oklahomans have successfully defeated all 27 anti-LGBT bills that were proposed to the state legislature this year. They won against so-called religious liberty laws defending discrimination, bathroom bills policing trans bodies, marriage license restrictions, and nearly every other shade of anti-LGBT legislation a pearl-clutching bigot could dream up.
These victories did not come easily. It took a concerted effort from organizations including Freedom Oklahoma, Oklahomans for Equality, the Equality Federation, and the Human Rights Campaign. Since January, people in Oklahoma have been signing petitions, talking to legislators, putting out statements to the press, and loudly demanding that hate not reign in their state. Democratic and Republican legislators alike responded by refusing to support these bills, most of which failed to meet their deadlines and quietly died with pitiful few mourners.
Still, targeted Oklahomans aren’t totally out of the woods yet: Republican state senator Joseph Silk, who is currently occupying himself trying to legalize charging abortion providers with murder and sponsoring two separate bills that were part of the Slate of Hate, has already vowed to resurrect them next year — a reminder that most wins at the state level result in a strained ceasefire rather than a lasting peace.
Oddly enough, given this round’s final outcome, it appears no state legislators openly opposed the bills despite working against them behind the scenes. Generally speaking, there’s at least one vocal LGBT supporter at this level in any given state. Perhaps the public silence is due to an email allegedly sent to members of the Oklahoma Democratic Party on February 3 from state Democratic Chair Mark Hammons. The message reportedly outlined the party’s strategy for this year, which includes not speaking publicly on LGBT legislation, reproductive rights, gun control, taxes, or any other issue that is divisive along party lines. It’s a strange choice since, you know, those issues are pretty much why people vote for Democrats in most of the country.
Regardless of the dueling stealth support and persistent prejudice of different legislators, the people of Oklahoma spoke up and showed up for the rights of LGBT people — and demonstrated that an informed and motivated electorate does indeed have the power to make sure the right thing is done. With more than 100 anti-LGBT bills still active across the country, we should look to Oklahoma’s triumph as a sign that it is possible to win this fight everywhere.
Although the landscape for LGBT rights varies wildly from state to state, strategic coordination between local and national organizations to mobilize people does work. We’re seeing it happen — from Oklahoma, to South Dakota, to North Carolina — and you can be one of those taking a stand. As Freedom Oklahoma’s Executive Director Troy Stevenson tweeted back in January, “If you are going to legislate against our rights you are going to have to look us in the eye.” If you don’t know where to start, you can go to the HRC and Equality Federation sites to find out what LGBT rights looks like in your state. Let’s keep this momentum going until anti-LGBT legislation is only a bad memory, everywhere, for all time.
One more thing: Don’t forget to take note of who’s sponsoring these bills, and when you’ll get a chance to vote them out of office. People like Joseph Silk and the other sponsors of the Slate of Hate serve at the pleasure of their constituents. Get rid of them, Oklahoma. They’re making you work too hard.