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Point of View: Gender identity, sexual orientation protection laws needed

Sarah Walter
Sarah Walter

State Sens. Micheal Bergstrom and David Bullard have brought Oklahoma’s current hate crime law into the spotlight by proposing Senate Bill 19, which would introduce a clause protecting police officers and related personnel from such attacks. Yet, no legislation has been introduced within the last 12 years to add protections for the LGBTQ community — even though such policies are commonplace in other states.

Oklahoma is only one of 13 states to not protect sexual orientation or gender identity in its existing hate crime laws. Yet, these are two of the leading motivations in hate crime cases: According to data from the National LGBTQ Task Force, in 2010, 19.3% of hate crimes were motivated by sexual orientation, and 26% of transgender and gender noncomforming individuals were victims of physical assault because of their gender identity.

In 2019, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 28% of hate crimes reported in Oklahoma were motivated by sexual orientation. However, based on the current state statute, those perpetrators cannot be properly prosecuted.

Oklahoma’s lack of protection goes beyond hate crimes and extends to housing, employment and public accommodations. Within the state, a minuscule 3% of Oklahoma’s population is currently protected in regards to sexual orientation and gender identity: Local legislation in Norman guarantees nondiscrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Only 27% of the state’s population is partially protected: Lindsay, Tulsa and Oklahoma City have enacted laws protecting gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, but not in employment or public accommodations. Adding a statute protecting LGBTQ individuals from identity-based hate crimes could be a stepping stone on the road to full legal protection for the entire LGBTQ community.

Oklahoma must strive to protect all of its residents — no matter age, race, class, gender or sexual orientation — from harm and discrimination. A necessary step towards providing this to the LGBTQ community is the explicit protection of gender identity and sexual orientation in hate crime laws.

With the potential for the state’s hate crime laws to be amended in order to protect the police, it’s important that the state Legislature seizes this moment to add a much-needed update to protect the LGBTQ community in a state marred by years of discrimination and outright violence.

Sarah Walter is a social work student at Texas Christian University and a native of Tulsa.