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Lance Frye resigns
With Gov. Kevin Stitt looking on, Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye prepares to speak to media Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, at the Oklahoma State Capitol. (Tres Savage)

Dr. Lance Frye resigned today as the Oklahoma commissioner of health, one day after Gov. Kevin Stitt criticized “rogue activists” for entering into a lawsuit settlement that caused the State Department of Health to create a process for amending birth certificates to reflect a nonbinary sex designation.

“It has been an honor to serve Oklahoma and advance public health for all Oklahomans,” Frye said in a press release. “I admire the dedication, resilience and tenacity of the OSDH team. They have worked tirelessly over the last two years to ensure Oklahomans had access to not only COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and critical information, but to other life-saving services.”

In the same release, Stitt praised Frye for providing “steady leadership” during the pandemic, but neither man addressed the reason for leadership change at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

“Dr. Frye provided steady leadership during Oklahoma’s COVID response from his role in surge planning on the Governor’s Solution Task Force to guiding our vaccine rollout that was Top Ten in the nation as Commissioner of Health,” Stitt said. “With cases and hospitalizations down 60% in recent weeks, Dr. Frye has positioned the Oklahoma State Department of Health well to continue managing COVID effectively and I am grateful for his service to our state during an unprecedented time.”

Stitt tapped Frye in May 2020 to succeed his first commissioner of health, Gary Cox, who resigned after receiving notice that the Oklahoma State Senate would not vote to confirm his appointment owing to the fact Cox did not hold any of the advanced degrees required by state law. The Senate confirmed Frye the following spring, on April 14.

An email sent to Oklahoma State Department of Health employees announcing Frye’s resignation said the agency will host a town hall for employees next week “to discuss further and to help answer any questions or concerns.”

Keith Reed, who had been deputy commissioner of health under Frye, has been named interim commissioner of health.

Lance Frye resigns following birth certificate drama

COVID-19 vaccine Phase 2
Gov. Kevin Stitt and Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye watch as Frances Watland, a resident of The Lodge at Brookline, receives her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (Tres Savage)

As commissioner of health, Frye oversaw operations of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, a long-beleaguered agency that faced a financial crisis in 2017 and wobbled under the strain of outdated technology and limited resources in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Frye at the helm and support from the Stitt administration, OSDH left its wretched 10th Street office building for shared space with other agencies in a controversial downtown tower. OSDH also announced the formation of a new pandemic center of excellence aimed at streamlining services and strengthening the intersection of human public health and animal health.

But after word spread this week that OSDH and former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office had settled a lawsuit by establishing a new policy to allow for “X” to be marked as a sex designation on birth certificates for nonbinary individuals who had obtained a court order, Stitt and other conservative politicians lashed out at the public health agency. While the new OSDH procedure was celebrated as a “huge step forward” for Oklahoma’s nonbinary and LGBTQ communities, Stitt criticized “rogue activists” who had “acted without receiving proper approval or oversight.”

“I believe that people are created by God to be male or female. Period. There is no such thing as nonbinary sex and I wholeheartedly condemn the purported OSDH court settlement that was entered into by rogue activists who acted without receiving proper approval or oversight,” Stitt said Thursday morning. “I will be taking whatever action necessary to protect Oklahoma values and our way of life.”

Frye released a statement hours later, saying the settlement had been reached by “the prior Attorney General’s Office” and that “our responsibility is to maintain vital statistics.”

“A legal settlement regarding birth certificate designations was reached in May by the prior attorney general’s office. The Oklahoma State Department of Health will work with the Governor and Attorney General’s office for input and counsel on next steps,” Frye said. “Our responsibility is to maintain vital statistics, and we will continue to do so in accordance with the laws of Oklahoma. Should a challenge to the previous agreement be made, we will proceed accordingly.”

Roughly 25 hours later, Frye’s next public statement concerned his abrupt resignation.

(Update: This article was updated at 4:42 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22, to include additional information.)

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Andrea DenHoed is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and was formerly the web copy chief at The New Yorker magazine. She became NonDoc's managing editor in 2020.
William W. Savage III (Tres) has served as NonDoc's editor in chief since the publication's launch in September 2015. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for eCapitol.net before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.