By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma City Council recently voted (Tuesday, January 5) 5-4 to add LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) protections to its housing discrimination ordinance. Besides adding protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the amendment adds protections for familial status, disability and age.
Oklahoma City’s updated housing protections will take effect February 4.
The Norman City Council was the first city in the state to add LGBT protections to its civil rights ordinance last December.
Existing Oklahoma City personnel policies prohibit discrimination in city hiring and employment based on sexual orientation, but do not provide protection regarding housing, employment and public accommodations, such as hotels and restaurants.
The council unanimously updated an ordinance that now protects people from discrimination, regardless of age, familial status, disability, race, color, sex, religion, creed, ancestry or national origin. It was last updated in 1980, before familial status and disability were recognized as protected classes.
The sponsor, Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid, also wants the council to restore a Human Right’s Commission. The Oklahoma Human Rights Commission (OHRC) held its last meeting in June 2012. A bill was passed in 2011 that eliminated the agency and placed its duties with the attorney general’s office, which was part of the governor’s plan to consolidate agencies.
“I just think discrimination is wrong and to a certain extent this has to do with the image of the city,” said Mayor Mick Cornett, who voted in favor of the LGBT amendment. “Are we a city that’s accepting, a city that’s open-minded? I believe we are.”
Those voting for the LGBT amendment included Mayor Cornett, Shadid, Ward 4 Councilman Pete White, Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer, and Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis
Opposed were Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner, Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee, Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell and Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher.
As reported by KFOR’s Lorne Fultonberg, Freedom Oklahoma executive director Troy Stevenson was ecstatic and looking to the future. “We have a lot more to do,” Stevenson said. “We need to get employment protections and protections in public spaces. We’re proud of the council. We’re glad they took this step and it’s a great day for Oklahoma City.”
Sara Ritsch of The Gayly newspaper reported that former Oklahoma City police officer, Paula Sophia Schonauer, supported the amendment. Schonauer said that it has been determined that “gender identity or the word ‘transgender” was not included in the protected class.
Ritch’s report included the following statement from Schonauer, “I was almost fired. The progress we have seen is that gender identity was included, but the lack of specific language and administration change could turn against us and render us invisible. We want the basics: housing and employment. We are talented, intelligent, law abiding citizens. I want this city to make a strong statement about full inclusion of gender identity.”
Following the meeting Oklahoma City resident Allison Andrea posted on Facebook, “I truly feel that the lack of education is still a major obstacle for so many. People do not understand fully that being LGBT is more than just a fad or a way to be recognized. All we care about is being treated fairly and equally just as anyone else does.”
Councilman White told FOX 25 News reporter Chelsea Washington, “You always find a resistance to change among those who think very conservatively and you always find support for change among people like myself that think more liberally.“
On the other side, Councilman McAtee told Washington, “The new amendment is not needed and goes beyond what Federal regulations have in store right now, so it’s premature to act on this new wording.
Washington stated in her report it was important to point out that money was at the heart of the issue, noting that in order for Oklahoma City to continue receiving housing grants from HUD and amendment offering housing protection needed to pass.