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Norman City Council passes historic LGBT protections

Norman City Council unanimously approves LGBTQ protections for employment, housing, and public accommodations. Photo provided.
Norman City Council unanimously approves LGBTQ protections for employment, housing, and public accommodations. Photo provided.

by Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter

After a year of preparation, the Norman City Council has unanimously incorporated into existing statutes fully inclusive protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) residents of Norman, Oklahoma.

The resolution passed on December 22 and interprets the existing Human Rights Ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity under the enumerated class of “sex.” Providing the same protections to LGBT citizens as are provided to other minority groups in Norman. Norman is the first city in Oklahoma to fully protect the LGBT community with equal protections provided to other minority communities.

The Norman advocates who have been fighting for these protections for decades — Freedom Oklahoma, PFLAG Norman, Norman United, Mothers of Many, and QuIC (Queer Inclusion on Campus: OU) — joined forces a year ago to push for this current effort.

“This is a historic day, not only for Norman, but for the entire state of Oklahoma,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director, Freedom Oklahoma. “As the first city in our great state to fully protect all of its residents, Norman has set a precedent for every municipality in Oklahoma, and a challenge to our state legislature to follow suit.”

The impetus to make changes was increased five years ago when nineteen-year-old Zack Harrington took his own life one week after attending a Norman City Council meeting where a contentious debate over gay rights took place,

According to the Norman Transcript, at the meeting Harrington attended at City Hall, the council acknowledged receipt of a proclamation recognizing October as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month in the city. Council voted 7 to 1 in favor of it, with only Councilman Dan Quinn casting a nay vote.

Harrington, who graduated from Norman North High School in 2009, was a “talented musician.” He had feared for his safety at Norman High and asked to leave school early during his senior year and to finish his diploma in a separate program.

Kay Holladay, PFLAG Regional Director and a co-founder of PFLAG Norman, stated, “I thank the Norman City Council for ensuring the rights of all Norman citizens.  Their leadership in making this public action sends the clear message to our LGBT friends that Norman is truly an inclusive community.”

The effect of the resolution is to afford the same protections to LGBT citizens as are provided to other minority groups in Norman. Norman is the first city in Oklahoma explicity to protect the LGBT community with such equal protections.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) website states that at least 225 cities and counties prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment ordinances that governed all public and private employers in those jurisdictions.

This includes equal housing, pubic accommodations and private employment.

Cindy Cason, spokesperson for MOM (Mothers of Many) said, “Our alliance is born of our grief of tragic loss of our community’s children who could no longer live with being bullied. MOM believes our voices need to be heard. We no longer need to mourn silently and watch hopelessly as our children are attacked.”

“QuIC applauds the City of Norman’s decision tonight to make our wonderful city more inclusive for all community members,” said Lena Tenney, spokesperson for QuIC (Queer Inclusion on Campus: OU). “Many LGBTQ+ students are very proud to call Norman their home and we hope to see the city continue to strive to build a more inclusive community for many years to come.”

Kami Day, spokesperson for Norman United said, “Norman United is a group of Norman citizens who came together out of concern that LGBTQ people in Norman were not protected against discrimination. Like Mothers of Many, we were particularly concerned that young LGBTQ people in Norman do not feel safe and welcome here. We decided to focus on advocating for a more inclusive Civil Rights Ordinance so that Norman can be the inclusive city it claims to be.”

Jim Eller, president of PFLAG Norman said, “We knew we could count on our Norman City Council to have the best interest of all citizens in mind, when they passed equal protections. PFLAG of Norman applauds our City Council’s leadership on this key human rights initiative.”

Norman City Council Ward 7 member Stephen Holman wrote on Facebook, “It was an absolute pleasure and honor for me to have had the chance to vote for such a historic measure in my hometown.”

Freedom Oklahoma is Oklahoma’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, and a member of the Equality Federation. Freedom Oklahoma is the result of the merger of The Equality Network, a 501 (c) (4) organization that lobbies for pro-equality legislation and public policies; and the Cimarron Alliance Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) organization that engaged in public education in support of the LGBT community.

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