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Parent arrested as Ryan Walters called 'bully and bigot' at Oklahoma meeting

OK State Superintendent Ryan Walters
Ryan Walters Site
OK State Superintendent Ryan Walters

The Oklahoma superintendent of public instruction has enraged many with his anti-LGBTQ+ stances.

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Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, known for his anti-LGBTQ+ and specifically anti-transgender stances, faced critics at a Thursday morning meeting at which one attendee was arrested.

Audra Beasley, who has children in the Oklahoma public schools, denounced Walters during the public comment session at the meeting of the State Board of Education, saying he was bullying LGBTQ+ kids and those with disabilities.

“You are an obnoxious bigot and bully!” she said, pointing at Walters, according to the Tulsa World.

“You have intentionally denied my child restroom access in this building,” she said. Her son Max uses a wheelchair because he has spina bifida. She wants state buildings to provide adult-size diaper-changing tables in restrooms; she was told to change Max on the floor of the restroom in the Oliver Hodge Building, where the meeting was held, she said.

She said another of her children is “part of a sex and gender minority group” and that Walters and the board have discriminated against these kids.

Walters this week directed Oklahoma public schools to ignore the Biden administration’s new rule on enforcement of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law against sex discrimination in education. The rule makes clear that the law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and that, among other things, it requires schools to allow students to use their chosen pronouns and the restrooms that comport with their gender identity. Walters called the new rule “illegal and unconstitutional.”

After Beasley’s allotted three-minute speaking time was up, another of her sons, Wesley, addressed the meeting. “Why are you bullying kids?” he asked. “The disabled — my brother — the gay, the trans. Why?”

“As he awaited an answer from Walters, Beasley continued to direct comments at Walters and demand accommodations for her disabled son,” the World reports. Soon, a state trooper approached Beasley and handcuffed her.

“Y’all are arresting me in front of my children because this man over here is a bigot and a bully, picking on trans kids, picking on disabled kids, picking on my kids,” she said, according to TV station KOCO. “My kids are crying, Ryan Walters.” She was led away and charged with willfully disrupting a meeting.

Walters has come in for extensive criticism for his response to the death of Nex Benedict, a bullied trans student who died the day after a fight with other students in a school restroom (Oklahoma’s chief medical examiner has ruled Benedict’s death a suicide). Walters had complained about “woke mobs” reacting to the death and contended that trans and nonbinary people don’t exist. “There’s not multiple genders. There’s two. That’s how God created us,” Walters told The New York TimesThe New York Times shortly after Benedict died.

Walters also appointed anti-LGBTQ+ activist Chaya Raichik, who does not live in Oklahoma, to a state committee that advises on library materials.

Beasley wasn’t alone in denouncing Walters at the meeting; “nearly every public speaker” did, according to the Human Rights Campaign. “Their message was clear: Ryan Walters must be removed from office,” says an HRC press release.

One speaker read comments from current and former teachers and librarians, anonymous because of fear of repercussions, condemning attacks on inclusive education from Walters and the state Department of Education and “offensive rhetoric” from him, HRC reports.

Cathryn Oakley, HRC’s senior director of legal policy, spoke at the meeting as well. She warned Walters that the state will face legal action and lose federal funding if it does not comply with Title IX. “Understand this: If Oklahoma schools do not comply with federal civil rights laws, it is choosing to invest not in the future of Oklahoma students, but in Ryan Walters’s political career at their expense,” she added. “Ryan Walters, you are failing Oklahoma students. Members of the board — it is time to act. Doing the right thing by LGBTQ+ students is doing the right thing for all Oklahoma students. Nex Benedict deserved better. Oklahomans deserve better.”

“Today’s Oklahoma Board of Education meeting was emblematic of the chaos that has overtaken Oklahoma’s schools under Ryan Walters’s so-called ‘leadership,’” HRC spokesperson Laurel Powell said in the release. “To watch a parent removed in handcuffs, in front of her children, for demanding answers from their superintendent was heartbreaking and, I hope, a call to action for the majority of Oklahomans who have had enough of his divisive and harmful rhetoric and actions.”

The U.S. Department of Education is conducting an investigation into Benedict's death in response to a complaint filed by HRC.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.