By now, everyone in Oklahoma is aware of the disdain many state legislators have for the LGBT community. The flurry every year of bills introduced under the banner of "religious freedom" leaves no doubt. But last week's display of rudeness toward young people at the Capitol should be decried by every person of good will.
Many students look forward to visiting the Capitol and meeting with their senators and representatives. And while there will always be a few troublemakers bent on defying authority, most of these students are scholarly youngsters who have dreams and ambitions, and they have as much right to be there as anyone else.
Apparently, some employees at the statehouse see things differently. Karen Kipgen, who supervises the student page program for the House of Representatives, broadcast an email that seemed sardonic: "As per the Speaker's office, Pages are being allowed access to the ladies restroom across from 401, for today. Again, there are cross-dressers in the building."
Her comment was a dig at groups visiting the Capitol during an education advocacy day. No one really knows how many LGBT individuals - lumped together as "cross-dressers" - may have been in the building at that time, but it's an absolute certainty that not a single one bothered any pages. That's equally true of the LGBT students who also happened to be on the premises and were tarred with the same brush.
The blame game started immediately, with Kipgen and other staffers saying they served "at the pleasure" of Speaker of the House Charles McCall and that the email came from him. That's an ironic phrase, considering the "pleasure" one of the leading anti-LGBT crusaders in the Senate was caught enjoying with a teenage boy. Whether the email or orders originated from McCall isn't clear, because he refused to meet with any offended individuals, though he did deny the email came from his office.
Maybe that's true, and maybe not. But it's clear McCall, Kipgen and others are part of a culture of derision and disdain aimed at a particular segment of the population. And while they do have a right to object to the "lifestyle" of LGBT individuals, they should at least keep their disgust in check while they're on the job, representing the taxpayers. And they should be ashamed of themselves for the emotional pain they inflicted upon these teenagers, who did nothing to harm them.
Several parents of LGBT students said their children were traumatized, or at least hurt by these actions - and among the aggrieved are folks from this area. They don't understand why public restrooms, paid for through taxpayer money, have become an outrageous bone of contention. They can't wrap their heads around why adults can't behave with more compassion, even if their faith teaches them being an LGBT person is morally wrong.
Perhaps Ms. Kipgen should ask herself how she would feel if she saw an email like this: "All the kids visiting the Capitol today - especially pages - should know they might run into an aging, judgmental women who doesn't like LGBT kids, and makes a big deal about where people go to the bathroom." Or, McCall might consider his reaction to this type of message: "The Speaker of the House, a kinda weird-looking dude from Atoka - does that mean he tokes? haha - keeps trying to take money away from public schools, so let's all head to his office and tell him what we think!"
Kipgen, at least, should get it. Her Facebook page used to bear a meme stating: "I don't care if you're black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, rich or poor. If you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you. Simple as that." She shut down her account after people began commenting on the apparent hypocrisy.
Oklahomans know they can't expect the Legislature in its current form to do much to pull the state out of its financial crisis. We should at least expect these public servants to treat every Okie with common courtesy, especially the young people - regardless of sexual orientation or anything else.
- The Tahlequah Daily News