LGBTQ+ people in the state of Oklahoma say they are feeling the effects of recent state legislation targeting transgender and nonbinary individuals, reporting a decline in mental health amidst the 2022 legislative session. 

Since February, Oklahoma has seen at least 15 anti-LGBTQ+ bills pass through the state house and senate. Gov. Kevin Stitt passed the “Save Women’s Sports Act” in early March, banning all transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports. Stitt also passed Senate Bill 1100 in April which effectively banned non-binary markers and changes to birth certificates. 

Kate Bierman, who is running for house district 44 representative, marches in Norman Pride’s parade to support the LGBTQ+ community. Photo by: Karoline Leonard

Nicole McAfee, the executive director for Freedom Oklahoma, said all of these bills are severely impacting the mental health of LGBTQ+ people across the state, leaving them feeling hopeless and alone. 

“Policy efforts that use anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric harm the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people, whether or not they pass,” McAfee said. “There’s the harms of passage, but there’s also the harms of giving them a platform. I think, even by introducing legislation like this, and treating these attacks as serious possibilities, we’re doing a lot of harm to young kids and their mental health.” 

Claire Phoenix, a music education major at the University of Oklahoma, said while she has very good mental health, the LGBTQ+ community as a whole is undergoing a crisis. 

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on mental health and suicide prevention, found that 94% of LGBTQ+ youth in America were negatively impacted by recent politics in its 2021 national survey

Additionally, the survey showed that 72% of LGBTQ+ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, and 62% reported symptoms of major depressive disorder. For transgender and non-binary youth, these numbers jump; three of four experience anxiety disorder, and two of three experience depression. 

“Mental health is a huge crisis in the LGBTQ+ community, and I don’t think legislators understand how big of a deal it is that they’re impacting our lives so heavily,” Phoenix said. 

Listening to the music performance, a young couple shares an intimate moment at Norman Pride’s festival on Saturday. Norman Pride featured local musicians and Drag performers for the event. Photo by: Karoline Leonard

Several other states in the country have seen similar anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in March, and the state currently has at least 12 other bills this session targeting LGBTQ+ people. Other states with anti-LGBTQ+ bills include Tennessee with 31, Kansas with 9 and Missouri with 17.

Oklahoma House Bill 1074 is modeled after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and it was filed alongside House Bill 1076 which would ban gender reassignment treatments or surgeries for minors. 

The Human Rights Campaign condemned Oklahoma government officials twice, once for the “Save Women’s Sports Act” and again when the state house passed a bill that would prohibit transgender youth from using restrooms aligned with their genders. 

“I wasn’t surprised to hear about (more bills) designed to stop progress. I fear that the passing of these bills would only reinforce lack of understanding, which leads to division, isolation (and) cruelty,” Michael Robertson, chapter president for PFLAG-Norman and the LGBTQ+ liaison for the Norman Police Department, added. 

“We don’t take lightly that trans and two-spirit kids are sacred.”

Nicole McAfee, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, discusses anti-trans legislation in the country and its affect on LGBTQ+ youth. Oklahoma has seen at least 15 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the 2022 legislative session. Video by: Karoline Leonard

McAfee believes these bills are trying to attack and reduce representation for LGBTQ+ people and will start a ripple effect. Because Oklahoma doesn’t offer opportunities for public testimony, these bills pass with very little resistance, according to McAfee. 

Phoenix hopes to work as a band teacher in the future to act as a resource for students questioning their identities in the same way she had while in school. Phoenix said despite knowing she is “going to be eaten alive,” she wants to be the teacher she never had in school.

“I thought back to myself in junior high and high school, and I didn’t have a single teacher who was open about (who they were), and as niche as a band teacher is, representation matters,” Phoenix commented. “I want to show students that you can be successful and be who you are.” 

Phoenix added that Pride events have greatly aided her mental state and the overall mental health of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“As much as they want to try and take our right to exist away, we’re never going to stop existing,” Phoenix said. “Coming together as a community and showing that we exist and are not going to stop existing, it’s so important.” 

Norman Pride’s celebration and parade took place over the first weekend of May, and Oklahoma City Pridefest will take place on June 24th-June 26th and is hosted by the Oklahoma City Pride Alliance.

Norman LGBTQ+ community celebrates Pride despite low mental health, targeted attacks

Norman Pride hosted its annual celebration over the weekend in the midst of the 2022 legislative session, which has seen at least 15 bills targeting LGBTQ+ community and in particular, transgender and nonbinary youth.

To view more photos from Norman Pride, click here.