When word spreads that something imminently stupid yet slightly relevant has happened at the Oklahoma State Capitol, I tend to view it as an opportunity to grant insiders anonymity. That way, I hope, they will speak freely about the situation.
So when The Lost Ogle beat us and everyone else to the punch today with a post about what bathrooms a House staffer was directing high-school pages to use, I set out through the halls to garner the reactions of lawmakers, lobbyists and anyone else who wanted to chime in.
In short, House page program honcho Karen Kipgen sent an email around 10:45 a.m. to alert lawmakers that pages would have access to typically off-limits thrones and urinals because “there are cross-dressers in the building.”
The email is believed by many — including TLO — to have been in response to a group of students who were rallying at the Capitol for education funding and HIV awareness. Today is HIV/AIDS Awareness Day at 23rd and Lincoln.
It’s also important to note that a spokesman for House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) told me on-record that the email did not come from the speaker’s office and was not originated from McCall’s direction, despite its wording.
Still, the 26-word missive set off a good deal of chatter Monday.
‘We don’t need to guard the bathrooms’
Anonymous responses to all of this drama ranged from outraged to exasperated to tongue-in-cheek.
“Here’s the thing,” said one lobbyist. “If they’re cross-dressing well, I’ll never know.”
The same lobbyist referenced 2016’s failed transgender bathroom bill and one of its co-authors.
Trans advocate: Bathroom sign ‘opportunity to educate’ by William W. Savage III
“I wonder if (Sen.) Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) is going to be outside the restrooms to make sure people are going to their birth-gender bathrooms?” the lobbyist posited.
Another lobbyist offered only three words about the ordeal.
“What the fuck?” he said.
A GOP House member also asked a question when confronted with the email about “cross-dressers”.
“Are there even any here?” the lawmaker wondered. “And if they are, who cares? It’s ridiculous. A staff member should have never put that out. We don’t need to guard the bathrooms.”
A second GOP House member said he had already received a constituent complaint about the presumed transgender Capitol-goers. He called the complaint “reactionary” and “too concerned.”
“I’m not aware why it’s being made into a big issue,” the lawmaker said. “They’re in high school. They’re used to this sort of thing.”
Indeed, I had spoken to two young women in the page program minutes earlier. One had felt comfortable enough to summarize her feelings similarly with the promise of anonymity.
“I go to a public school, so it doesn’t bother me,” she said. “They’re people, too.”
‘Who are we trying to protect the pages from?’
Monday’s discussion of bathrooms hearkens back to a 2016 controversy surrounding transgendered bathroom accommodations. The political playout galvanized a segment of the conservative public against a vague threat posed to the traditional decency of a good and sacred pisser.
But it also unfolds two months into a session that started with investigation and admonishment of two lawmakers who were accused of inappropriate sexual statements and advances to female House staff and, of course, pages.
Rep. Dan Kirby facing expulsion, Rep. Will Fourkiller told to stay away from teens by William W. Savage III
Then-Rep. Dan Kirby resigned his seat after a settled lawsuit claimed he sexually harassed a legislative assistant. At the same time, Rep. Will Fourkiller (D-Stilwell) was directed to have no contact with the high school pages.
The fact that Fourkiller remains in the Legislature despite the disgusting nature of a comment he allegedly made to a teenage girl has many Capitol insiders baffled. Some have even told me that Fourkiller had a long history of inappropriate behavior with pages.
“He just is an idiot and creepy,” a separate House member said of Fourkiller on Monday. “It speaks to the culture that is up here. It’s sad because these pages come up here every week, and they really do admire the lawmakers.”
A second lawmaker pointed to the charges faced by former Sen. Ralph Shortey, who was arrested after being found in a motel room with a teenage boy.
“Then Shortey happened. But it doesn’t seem to be a touchy subject, is the thing,” the House member said. “There seems to be this complete cognitive dissonance with what happened involving legislators and not being able to see that we know who to look out for while putting the attention on people who are harmless.”
The House member who called Fourkiller “creepy” said Monday’s email about cross-dressers raised questions.
“The email referenced a group of students,” he said. “So who are we trying to protect the pages from? Other students who are visitors who are likely their classmates who they see every day back home? Or the people in the Legislature who have proven to be less than above board?”
For her part, an HIV/AIDS awareness advocate said Monday’s events unfortunately overshadow an important topic.
“Conversations like this demonstrate that we need to be here talking about this issue,” she said. “This disease, it doesn’t discriminate.”
She said the segment of the population seeing the greatest rise in HIV is black women.
“That is a different population than what we were traditionally looking at 20 years ago,” she said.