Ignorance, fear and hatred are never the basis of good legislation

We’re back in Legislative season here in Oklahoma, which means it’s time — like clockwork — for this year’s predictable bout of discriminatory bills targeting LGBTQ Oklahomans.

You can’t count on state government for much, but you can count on this — if the Oklahoma Legislature is in session, some legislator will try to boost his or her conservative credentials by attacking the already diminished rights of the LGBTQ population.

In 2016, a total of 27 anti-LGBTQ laws were considered by the Oklahoma Legislature — thankfully, all failed. But, in 2018 the Legislature successfully attacked LGBTQ families, passing a discriminatory adoption bill into law, that allows private and publicly-funded adoption agencies to refuse to place a child with an LGBTQ person by claiming a religious or moral exception.

The exception, it seems, is morals and the core tenet of Christianity and every other major world faith — to love your neighbor — are outweighed by the last socially acceptable bastion of codified bigotry.

In 2021, the latest attempt at codified bigotry is House Bill 1888, by Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole.

It is hard to be innovative in a field so inundated with anti-LGBTQ laws, but Williams succeeds this year in coming up with a novel approach — pretending LGBTQ people simply don’t exist.

His bill would ban all public bodies from conducting “any form of gender or sexual diversity training or counseling.”

That’s the sum total of Williams’ brief bill. But, to ensure there’s no question about what entails a “public body,” he includes this tedious definition, which “shall include, but not be limited to, any office, department, board, bureau, commission, agency, trusteeship, authority, council, committee, trust or any entity created by a trust, county, city, village, town, township, district, school district, fair board, court, executive office, advisory group, task force, study group, or any subdivision thereof, supported in whole or in part by public funds or entrusted with the expenditure of public funds or administering or operating public property, and all committees, or subcommittees thereof.”

Kudos to Williams for making the definition of “public body” as expansive as possible.

Williams told the Tulsa World he wrote the bill because he “does not believe government is ‘qualified’ to provide such training.”

But, what the bill really does is codify and attempt to sustain the current level of ignorance and lack of understanding in Oklahoma of our LGBTQ neighbors.

That ignorance, that lack of understanding, is the fetid soil from which grows discrimination and discriminatory policies and laws, and Williams’ proposed law, which passed out of the General Government Committee this week, seeks to enshrine that bed of malice.

Twelfth century philosopher Ibn Rushd spoke to the current state of affairs for LGBTQ Americans, and those, like Williams, who would like to see them continue to be oppressed.

“Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred, and hatred leads to violence,” Ibn Rushd wrote. “This is the equation.”

The only way to overcome inequality and oppression in the long-term is to take away the first part of that equation — to overcome ignorance. And under Williams’ bill, it would be illegal for first responders, human resources managers, public housing authorities, state funded food pantries or any other public resource serving Oklahoma’s estimated 113,000 LGBTQ adults, and 74,000 LGBTQ workers, to educate themselves on the people they serve.

The evil fruit of ignorance is already all-too-apparent in Oklahoma, where there are no laws guaranteeing LGBTQ people equality in housing, employment, education or health care.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 26% of transgender respondents from Oklahoma reported they had been fired, denied a promotion, or not hired because of their gender identity or expression; 15% of transgender survey respondents from Oklahoma reported experiencing some form of housing discrimination; and 25% of respondents who visited a place of public accommodation in Oklahoma where employees knew or thought they were transgender reported some form of mistreatment, including denial of equal treatment or service, verbal harassment, or physical assault.

Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred, and hatred leads to hateful Legislation and codified discrimination. In Oklahoma, this is the equation.

Human beings always will try to isolate and repress that which they fear. House Bill 1888 seeks to ensure we continue to live in a state of fear and ignorance, to ensure we continue to isolate and repress 113,000 Oklahomans — and that number does not include LGBTQ youth.

Ignorance, fear and hatred. Or, understanding, empathy and love. The Legislature will make its choice. And each of us also much choose between these two paths.

As for me, I choose love over hatred, empathy over fear, and understanding over ignorance.

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