On Sunday, an OU Board of Regents member compared homosexuality to pedophilia and sexual assault while appearing on a local talk show. Kirk Humphreys, a former two-term Oklahoma City mayor and vice chairman of the OU Board of Regents, said during KFOR’s weekly Flashpoint episode, “If [homosexuality] is OK, then it’s OK for everybody and quite frankly it’s OK for men to sleep with little boys if it’s OK.”
Humphreys’ comments were not only bigoted and offensive, they were in direct opposition to OU’s Regents’ Policy Manual, which states:
[The University of Oklahoma] is committed to creating and maintaining a community where all persons who participate in University programs and activities, can work and learn together in an atmosphere free from all forms of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation.
As a queer alumna of OU, Humphreys’ words were a painful reminder of the disgust and hatred that many in Oklahoma still hold for people like myself (video below; transcript here). That disgust and hatred continues to harm the lives of LGBT Oklahomans across the state. It must be stopped.
Coming out in the Bible Belt
When you’re queer in the Bible Belt, coming out can be a terrifying experience. In the South, “conservative family values” don’t always include loving that family unconditionally, especially if they happen to turn out gay.
When I first came out to my family as a queer woman, I was terrified I would never be allowed to see my niece again. Historically, queer people have been portrayed as sexual deviants, most commonly as pedophiles capable of preying on America’s children. Turn on any televised evangelical-megachurch service, and it won’t take long to see that that portrayal persists in the South.
This fear delayed my coming out by several years. My niece and nephew were (and are) the two most important humans on this planet to me, and the thought that anyone would worry for even a second that I would hurt them sickened me. The possibility that I would no longer be allowed in their lives was too painful of a thought to even fathom.
Fortunately, my fears were unnecessary, as my immediate family accepted my coming out with grace. Many LGBT Americans aren’t quite so lucky.
Oklahoma’s long, sordid history of anti-LGBT stances
The myth of a link between homosexuality and pedophilia that Humphreys perpetuated on Flashpoint (and that delayed my own coming out) has a long and sordid history in the United States as well as in Oklahoma. Humphreys is hardly the first politician to make the repeatedly debunked comparison.
In 1977, former Miss Oklahoma beauty pageant winner and noted anti-LGBT activist Anita Bryant campaigned successfully to repeal a Dade County, Florida, ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Bryant named her organization Save Our Children and said that “a particularly deviant-minded [gay] teacher could sexually molest children.”
Bryant went on to lead similar successful anti-LGBT campaigns in cities in Minnesota, Kansas and Oregon. Her success led to the 1978 Briggs Initiative, a failed attempt in California to make statements in support of LGBT people by any public school employee cause for dismissal. That same year, Oklahoma legislators enacted a law allowing the dismissal of teachers who make public statements “advocating, encouraging or promoting” homosexual activity.
In 1985, the Oklahoma law was the subject of the first gay rights issue to go before the Supreme Court, whose ruling partially struck down the law but upheld the right of the school board to fire any teacher who engaged in “public homosexual activity”.
In 2005, despite — or, perhaps, in part because of Bryant’s anti-LGBT history — the town of Barnsdall, Oklahoma, named a street after Anita Bryant, calling her a “wonderful inspiration for America.” Her public stances on LGBT rights continue to impact the gay community today. In 2011, Scott Hamilton, executive director of gay rights group the Cimarron Alliance Foundation, said, “She forced people to stay in the closet, like myself, for a longer time.”
Bryant currently lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, where she leads Anita Bryant Ministries International. Her biography on the organization’s website describes her as many things, including as the victim of a “dramatic and emotional struggle with militant homosexuals.”
As of 2017, Oklahoma state law still does not protect against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, nor does it address hate crimes against the LGBT community.
‘For a Fair and Just Oklahoma’
Kirk Humphreys’ comments on Sunday’s Flashpoint were not his first time taking a public anti-LGBT stance. In 2001, while Mayor of Oklahoma City, Humphreys led an unsuccessful campaign to remove banners celebrating National Gay and Lesbian Month from Oklahoma City streetlights.
The Cimarron Alliance filed a lawsuit against the city and won. Following their successful lawsuit, the group hung banners that read, “For a Fair and Just Oklahoma” along Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City.
It appears that in the 16 years since Humphreys’ unsuccessful bid to prevent the celebration of LGBT Oklahomans (and the diversity they provide), Humphreys has yet to broaden his views on what a “fair and just Oklahoma” means.
It’s time for him to learn, and it is now the responsibility of the other members of the OU Board of Regents, as well as Gov. Mary Fallin (who first appointed him to the board in 2012), to teach Humphreys by calling for his resignation. His words on Sunday were more than just offensive: By equating the sexuality of an entire group of people to criminal acts, he made campus a more hostile and less safe space for LGBT students.
Without his resignation, Humphreys is currently slated to become chairman of the OU Board of Regents in 2018. Currently, his position on the board gives him extreme levels of influence in the ongoing search to select University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s predecessor. It is crucial that the university — and the state — send a message to all Oklahomans that a bigot such as Humphreys will no longer be allowed to have that kind of influence.
Two years ago, when tuxedo-clad members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were caught on video singing racist songs, Boren gave a press conference in which he said:
Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners are not racists. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat each other with respect. Real Sooners love each other and care for each other like members of a common family.
Agreed, President Boren. Kirk Humphreys is not a Real Sooner. It’s time to say he’s got to go.