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Oklahoma Fights Back Against Antigay Bills

Oklahoma Fights Back Against Antigay Bills

A bill that would have protected "ex-gay" therapy died today in Oklahoma's state House, where a Democrat Tuesday also introduced legislation that would require businesses refusing service to LGBT clientele to advertise their discriminatory practices. 

The "ex-gay therapy bill," introduced as House Bill 1598 by noted homophobe Rep. Sally Kern in January, sought to ensure that any parent who wanted their children to undergo "therapy" to change their sexual orientation or gender identity would have the right to do so. 

The bill, which died on the House floor today without a vote, was an attempt to defy growing nationwide efforts to ban the use of so-called conversion therapy on minors, as every major psychological and medical organization in the United States has said such therapy is ineffective and harmful. California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., have all banned the discredited practice's use on minors, and Colorado recently advanced a bill that would ban the practice as well. 

"It is not often that we can say defeating a piece of legislation actually saved lives, but with HB 1598, that is exactly what happened," said Freedom Oklahoma executive director Troy Stevenson in a statement Thursday. "The fact that this bill would have removed oversight and prohibited state intervention into extreme forms of child abuse was unconscionable. We owe a debt of gratitude to the fair-minded legislators who refused to allow it to even get a vote on the house floor."

Just two days earlier, an Oklahoma Democrat introduced an amendment to another antigay bill that seeks to secure a so-called license to discriminate against LGBT people, under the guise of "religious freedom." The legislation, filed as HB 1371 and authored by Rep. Chuck Strohm, is called the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act and, if enacted, would ensure that no person be required "to participate in any marriage ceremony, celebration, or other related activity or to provide items or services for such purposes against the person's religious beliefs." The bill explicitly defines "person" as "a natural or juridical person, including but not limited to unincorporated nonprofit associations;" opening the door for businesses and charities to turn away LGBT clientele. 

ButTuesday, Rep. Emily Virgin introduced an amendment to the bill that would require those businesses refusing to serve same-sex couples or LGBT customers to plainly state their discriminatory practices. 

Any person (as defined above in the legislation) who is unwilling to serve individuals "based on sexual orientation, gender identity or race of either party to the marriage shall post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites," reads Virgin's amendment. "The notice may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race."

The statewide equality group applauded Virgin's amendment for laying bare the discrimination inherent in the bill, disguised as "religious freedom." 

"Thank you to Representative Virgin for calling out the level of segregation allowed under this legislation," Freedom Oklahoma's Stevenson said in a statement Tuesday. "If the state of Oklahoma is going to protect discrimination, then at the very least, businesses should be required to own their bias, and post it publicly for the world to see."

Virgin's amendment has yet to be voted upon but could prove contentious in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

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