Commentary: A brighter future for all Oklahomans 

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For the second year in a row, Oklahoma made national headlines after a handful of state legislators proposed an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ bills. In a year marked by a looming budget shortfall of over a billion dollars, this is not only cruel, it is bad for business and bad for the overall stability of our state’s economic future.

Indiana and Arizona have felt the economic backlash of passing discriminatory legislation in recent years, and we were hopeful that lawmakers in Oklahoma would have taken heed of the bullet they dodged last year by squashing 18 harmful pieces of legislation, but instead, they doubled down. On the first day of the 2016 legislative session, there were 27 bills targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Oklahomans — more than have ever been proposed in any state in the union within a single legislative session. Most concerning among them were bills aimed at harming LGBTQ and homeless youth, truly the most vulnerable members of our society.

According to The Associated Press, the direct economic detriment to Indianapolis — just in lost convention revenue — last year was over $60 million after the Indiana Legislature passed a bill that would have allowed discrimination based on personal bias.

Is this the path Oklahoma wants to go down?
Over the last decade, there has been a paradigm shift in public opinion on equal rights across the nation, including Oklahoma.

At the forefront of this change has been corporate America. Virtually every Fortune 500 company has adopted protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

This did not happen because these companies had a sudden need to be fairer; it was a direct result of corporate directors realizing that failing to implement these policies hurt their ability to retain top talent and, in turn, hurt their profit margin.

Why do our lawmakers not realize that the same is true for the state of Oklahoma?

In the midst of the furor over this slate of hate proposed this session, one bill has been forgotten. House Bill 1345 actually offers workplace protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These types of protections create a business-friendly environment that would attract new corporations and investment into Oklahoma. In light of our current fiscal struggles, this is legislation that lawmakers should be looking to move forward rather than engaging in destructive measures that create a negative view of our great state.

Freedom Oklahoma is confident that these negative bills will be defeated, and we are hopeful that our leaders begin to see that fairness, diversity and equality are qualities and attributes that will move Oklahoma forward rather than pushing us into a deeper financial crisis.

We are a small and greatly underfunded organization, yet our members number in the tens of thousands and have proven time and time again in the last two legislative sessions that they are ready, willing and able to show up at a moment’s notice and look lawmakers in the eye as they vote on our rights.

Each time one of these ill-conceived pieces of legislation is brought forward, our movement grows stronger and more organized. We will not stand by while our rights are stripped away. This is our home too. And our greatest hope is that the politics of distraction will end and we can work together toward a brighter future for all Oklahomans.

Troy Stevenson is executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, Oklahoma’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization.

Print Headline: A brighter future for all Oklahomans

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