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Oklahoma Mayor: I Loudly Endorse the Equality Act

Breea Clark

Mayor Breea Clark of Norman stands with 350 other mayors in demanding a federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination law.

The conversation about LGBTQ equality is one of the most important conversations in our country today. Thirty states still lack explicit, comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people from discrimination; and federal protections are at risk of being stripped by the U.S. Supreme Court. No one should have to live in fear of discrimination or humiliation simply because of who they are, and that includes our LGBTQ neighbors.

That's why I'm proud to join the national Mayors Against LGBTQ Discrimination coalition alongside more than 350 other mayors from all 50 states who share the same values as me, reflecting the nearly seven in 10 (69 percent) Americans from all walks of life who favor LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws.

As mayors, we're obliged to do our part to build understanding within ourselves, among our constituents, and in solidarity with other elected officials about the harms of treating people differently for being LGBTQ. Keeping our communities welcoming is a core part of our jobs. The motto of my city Norman, Okla., is "Building an Inclusive Community," and our attitude as well as our ordinances should reflect that spirit. We need to take care of all our residents and ensure that they can earn a living, provide shelter for their families, and safely go about their daily lives, with no exceptions.

As an Oklahoman, I know my state and residents stand for family and fairness, without room for discrimination of any kind: the real Oklahoma standard. I'm proud that this past summer, the Norman city council enacted our state's first LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance to update our existing civil rights law and ensure that none of our residents can be fired, denied housing, or turned away from a business for being LGBTQ.

That step was a long time coming. Twenty states and more than 250 cities already have similar laws prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination, many of which have been in place for decades without any negative consequence; and nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies. Being inclusive and treating LGBTQ people fairly is not only the right thing to do -- it's essential for our economy's bottom line and to build the strongest communities possible.

Standing with LGBTQ people is more important now than ever. Oral arguments just took place in October in three cases currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that ask the core question of whether our nation's civil rights laws include LGBTQ people. In each case, workers were fired for being gay or transgender. With a ruling expected in the next few months, the Supreme Court has the opportunity for the first time to affirm that all of us -- including LGBTQ workers -- should be treated with dignity and respect. Dozens of lower courts and federal agencies have already agreed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, includes LGBTQ people.

But no matter how the Supreme Court rules, our work continues. The best way to ensure lasting protections that cannot be overturned by a court or newly elected legislature is to pass federal legislation like the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination against women and LGBTQ people in virtually every area of life. Until that happens, Norman will lead in Oklahoma with ordinances and protections of our own.

LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws are fueled by a basic promise all Americans make to treat each other the way we want to be treated. We can all agree that anyone who works hard, meets their responsibilities, and does the right thing shouldn't have to worry about discrimination. Basic fairness shouldn't depend on which company a person works at or in what zip code they live. I hope the growing majority of Americans who agree will urge their lawmakers and local officials to correct this wrong.

While I might have a bias, I believe local government is the most important level of government, because it directly impacts residents in their everyday lives and can affect change much faster than state or federal government. I urge you to get engaged. Know your locally elected officials, visit your City Hall, and apply to serve on a local board or commission. We don't have to wait on higher levels of government to make a difference in the lives of our family, friends, and neighbors. Join us in strengthening our nation by participating in the foundational level of our democracy: the American city.

Breea Clark is the mayor of Norman, Okla., and a member of the Mayors Against LGBTQ Discrimination coalition.

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Breea Clark