A discriminatory email made its way around the Oklahoma State Capitol building Monday, concerning a group of 70 LGBTQ students who were visiting the capitol.
In preparation for the students' visit, an email sent from staff member Karen Kipgen's account granted the building's pages (who act as messengers for the politicians) access to private bathrooms they normally wouldn't be allowed to use because "there are cross-dressers in the building," the Tulsa World reports.
Kipgen is the supervisor of the page program for the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Someone posted the email to Twitter, where the ACLU of Oklahoma picked it up.
"We call on House Speaker to immediately right this wrong ensuring future comms about LGBTQ Oklahomans not further endanger trans community," the tweet read.
We call on House Speaker to immediately right this wrong ensuring future comms about LGBTQ Oklahomans not further endanger trans community pic.twitter.com/ng6x6ZMMjR— ACLU of Oklahoma (@ACLUOK) April 10, 2017
The students visiting the capitol were there to lobby on behalf of HIV awareness, education funding, and support, according to the Tulsa World. Unlike in earlier years, they no longer had to lobby for changes in laws that directly discriminate against them as queer students. Most of the those laws have already been changed in Oklahoma legislature, according to the Tulsa World.
Comments like this immediately changed what would have been a good year at the capitol for the LGBTQ students.
“Never have I felt so unsupported,” Pickles Lee, 18, told the Tulsa World. “This email sort of escalated everything.”
And even though the senator's office immediately apologized with a statement about the email, what should have been a positive experience for these students' was colored by an email directly attacking them for their sexualities and genders.
“We came down to the Capitol to talk about laws,” Ella Gambino, 17, told the Tulsa World. “To be referred to as cross-dressers is something you say as an insult.”
She's right. In this instance, there's no question that the email meant for the word "crossdressers" to be an insult, especially coupled with the thought that "normal" people like the pages who work at the capitol building couldn't possibly use the same bathroom as LGBTQ kids. (Oklahoma is one of 15 states with pending bathroom bills.)
It marks them as predatory, different, and "wrong."
But "crossdresser" is not inherently an insult. It's an identity just like straight, gay, transgender, or genderqueer. Some people identify as crossdressers — and for what it's worth, it's perfectly safe for them to use the same bathroom as you.
According to the statement from Charles McCall, Speaker of the House, there's an investigation into why the email went out.
"I was unaware that such an email was being sent, and the remarks contained in the email are not condoned by me or the Office of the Speaker," the statement said, according to the Tulsa World. "As Speaker, all Oklahomans should feel welcome in the Oklahoma Capitol building. We are looking into this matter, and it will be taken seriously.”
Still, his statement isn't enough for the ACLU of Oklahoma, who said in their own statement that the speaker's actions — supporting discriminatory legislation — speak louder than his words.
"It is not enough to say that LBGTQ Oklahomans are welcome at the Capitol," the statement read. "Of course they are welcome at the Capitol. It is their building as much as it as any other Oklahomans. To welcome them to the Capitol is little consolation to LGBTQ Oklahoman who, if SB 197 had become law, would have been unwelcome in many other places in Oklahoma. If Speaker McCall wants a truly welcoming state, then he needs to commit that hateful and discriminatory legislation will have no safe harbor in the House of Representatives as long as he is Speaker of the House.”
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