The nation’s first openly nonbinary state lawmaker and allies criticised remarks from Oklahoma’s governor following a directive from the state’s Health Department that would allow residents to designate themselves as nonbinary on their birth certificates.
Oklahoma Democratic state Rep Mauree Turner, who uses they and them pronouns, refuted statements from Republican Governor Kevin Stitt and other GOP state officials who have vowed to halt the decision.
“If you have to work with people who adamantly oppose your existence … to the point to where we can’t work together, you can’t talk to me, you can’t talk to me like I’m a human being, you don’t see me, that damages anyone’s working relationship,” Rep Turner told KOKH-TV.
Following a 2020 lawsuit against state officials over birth certificate markers, the Oklahoma State Department of Health and office of the state Attorney General reached a settlement in May and began its formal process for an agreement this month.
In a statement this week, Governor Stitt said he believes that “people are created by God to be male or female. Period.”
He stated that “there is no such thing as nonbinary sex” and pledged to take “whatever action necessary to protect Oklahoma values and our way of life”.
GOP leaders in the state’s House and Senate also called on lawmakers to reverse the directive.
In response, Rep Turner said in a post on social media that “as a non-binary Oklahoman who has to sit in rooms with these folks who quite literally pretend that I don’t exist – I don’t expect anything less from them.”
“It’s saddening to see a few men pour this deeply misguided and very dangerous rhetoric into an entire state,” they said.
Oklahoma’s Democratic House Minority Leader Emily Virgin called the governor’s comments “abhorrent and completely unbecoming of a governor”.
“Moreover, it is dangerous,” she said.
Nicole McAfee, executive director of LGBT+ advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma, said the state’s LGBT+ community “is always braced for elected officials to target us in order to score partisan, political points,” particularly in the lead-up to an election year.
“But those words are empty, and not reflective of the rich communities we exist in across the state,” she said in a statement. “Nonbinary and gender diverse people have always been on this land, long before statehood. We recognize when bullies want us to back down and be silent, but we’ll continue to fight for a state where we have full equality under the law and the safety to thrive.”
The health department’s settlement “is not a matter of if people have the right to have X-gender markers in Oklahoma, but rather about the process of how”, she added.
“People need government documents for everything from securing housing or employment to receiving state identification cards or receiving their Covid-19 vaccine,” Ms McAfee said. “We as a community are safer and better equipped to serve one another when people have access to documents that accurately reflect who they are.”
Rep Turner told KHOK-TV that “to be able to have that autonomy and have that part, that real intimate part of you really kind of recognized in a big way is really, really important in more ways than one.”