Learn about the history of LGBTQ issue in Oklahoma and how Pride can help.
By: Amanda Cardinal
Historically, Oklahoma has been no hallmark of progressivism when it comes to laws and attitudes regarding LGBTQIA+ issues. It was a mere 5 years ago on October 6, 2014 that the
United States Supreme Court rejected the appeal reinstating Oklahoma’s district court’s ruling which found same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. It was only 11 years before that in 2003, that same-sex sexual activity was considered illegal in Oklahoma. To this day, the state of Oklahoma has no“explicit, comprehensive statewide non-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people,” according to Freedom for All Americans.
Considering Oklahoma’s deeply conservative and religious history, the state of LGBTQ issues comes as no surprise. While big cities like Tulsa or Oklahoma City offer some refuge for LGBTQ individuals, those who reside in the more rural, conservative communities of Oklahoma are often left feeling ostracized or rejected, with no outlet of acceptance.
For many years this was the reality for those living in Payne county as well. Despite being home to the second largest university in Oklahoma, Payne county is by many definitions a small community and one that politically skews red. However, in recent years, as Payne county, specifically Stillwater, has grown and the student demographic has become more diverse, the community has become a much more welcoming place for LQBTQ individuals.
This was evident this past Saturday, April 6, when Payne County held their first Pride festival. Andre Durham, the director and founder of the Payne County Pride Association, says it’s important to hold events like these in small cities and rural communities.
Durham told the Stillwater News Press, “It’s Payne County Pride not Stillwater Pride because we want to send that message across to everyone. We also want to send the message that Oklahoma isn’t just some backwards state. We have queer folks here who are just as happy and affirmed and fulfilled as they are in New York or San Francisco or any other big city.”
People who have lived in Stillwater their whole lives are watching the community change around them and many think that it’s for the better. In 2017, a Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 53% of Oklahomans supported same-sex marriage, and 64% supported an anti-discrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender identity. However, these numbers are growing. Durham emphasizes that Payne County Pride is family event, offering “information booths where people can ask questions without worrying about being judged.”
Utilizing events like these in small communities is essential in educating people about LQBTQ issues. As people continue to push for statewide non-discrimination protections for the LQBTQ community, education will be an essential part of creating and passing legislation. It certainly won’t be the last Payne County Pride Festival, so keep an eye out for how you can get involved at paynecountypride.org.
Graphics courtesy of Payne County Pride