Oklahoma City took another step in becoming a truly big league city after voting Nov. 15 to expand its anti-discrimination policy for city employees to include sexual orientation.
Anyone who has fought for gay rights through the years in conservative Oklahoma, and especially in this area, understands the significance of the 7-2 vote to approve the measure. Councilman Ed Shadid, who I hope becomes the next Oklahoma City mayor, should be commended for pushing the measure. It shows the city has come a long way in escaping its parochial past, and it sends a powerful signal to everyone that discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community (LGBT) should not be tolerated.
In speaking against the measure, a local pastor, Tom Vineyard of the Windsor Hills Baptist Church, drew widespread media attention when he claimed a New York judge once made the ludicrous statement that gay people are responsible for half the murders in large cities, but it was the cooler, reasonable heads that prevailed in the end. That was the real story.
Vineyard’s comments are part of an increasingly bizarre and now marginalized, anti-gay trope, perpetuated by people such as state Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City), that seek to demonize the LGBT community with wild accusations. Kern, of course, once said that gay people pose more of a threat to our culture than terrorism, but it appears she remained relatively silent about this issue. I couldn’t find her mentioned in relation to the council action in a Google search, but that could change. Here’s the key, though: It won’t matter one way or another.
What’s important to note is the disparity between the anti-gay rhetoric of Oklahoma politicians and religious leaders, who use fear and distortions to manipulate low-information voters, and the steady march towards equality for the LGBT community here and elsewhere. The ludicrousness of Vineyard’s and Kern’s positions becomes even more apparent as the LGBT community marches to equality. Where are the dire, cultural consequences? No, of course, it’s just the opposite. A tolerant, diverse culture will always be stronger and more adaptable than a narrow-minded, bigoted society.
And the vote, as I mentioned, is good for Oklahoma City and the surrounding areas. Along with the obvious need for rights’ protection, the measure can be seen as a symbol of tolerance and progress. That’s good for this area in terms of quality of life and even economic development. It can resonate and positively influence other cultural issues here as well.
Let me be clear: There will be a day in the future when gay people will be allowed to marry in Oklahoma City despite people like Vineyard and Kern, who grab all the headlines but lose in the end.
There’s still a lot to be done in the LGBT community’s fight for full equality, especially here, but this was a major, local victory. Shadid, who represents Ward 2, should continue to push issues that make the city more tolerant, urban and green. This benefits everyone. As mayor, Shadid could do even more.