March 10th came and went without much fanfare, yet it was a milestone day for Equality Federation member Freedom Oklahoma. When the Oklahoma Legislature gaveled into session earlier this year, Oklahoma’s LGBTQ community faced a daunting challenge to overcome 27 anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation — many carried over from the previous legislation. Unflappable in their determination, Freedom Oklahoma came out of the gate strong with a press conference to call the media’s attention to the bills on deck to alerting the community to voice their concerns. Working with Vis-Ability, a transgender-led group advocating for transgender and genderqueer Oklahomans, Freedom Oklahoma coordinated media training for nearly 20 transgender Oklahomans and their allies with support provided by Equality Federation staff.
While building their bench of messengers, Freedom Oklahoma walked the halls under the dome and talked to legislators about the community’s concerns. Keep in mind, while this slate of legislation was the largest seen in the country, only a handful of authors were responsible for the bulk of this dangerous legislation. Most Oklahoma Republican legislators are fair-minded. After the freedom to marry became the law in October of 2014, people have seen our families, friends, and neighbors getting married and enjoying life in the Sooner state — the public is getting to know our families as their own.
The days wore on and some of the bills began to move through the winding legislative process. The watershed moment this session came on February 9th. The Senate Judiciary Committee took SB 1328 – the Oklahoma Right of Conscience Act up for consideration. This measure would have allowed for personal beliefs to be used as a justification for discrimination. The tone of the hearing was unprecedented. In a debate led by Republican Senators, the proposed law’s unintended consequences were exposed . At the conclusion of the debate, the votes were cast and with a 5-4 bipartisan decision, SB 1328 was defeated in committee. This hearing marks the first time Oklahoma Republicans took a vote to protect LGBTQ Oklahomans from discrimination!
While the outcome on SB1328 was momentous, advocates remained persistent. Gill Action Fund supplied additional resources to keep up the pressure at the legislature. Equality Federation and Human Rights Campaign staff helped run Freedom Oklahoma’s Lobby Day in early March. Freedom for All Americans provided messaging support and amplified awareness through digital outlets. By working together in smart, strategic ways local, state, and national organizations worked alongside Oklahoma Republicans to defeat the so-called “slate of hate” proposed by a handful of state legislators out-of-step with their fair-minded Oklahomans.
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