What started out as a hopeful day for some young students at the state capitol in Oklahoma City, OK, quickly took a turn for the worse, thanks to a single email. On Monday, a group of LGBTQ students from Tulsa, OK, paid a visit to the capitol. The students were involved in the House's Page Program, which is meant for high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are interested in helping elected officials in the House. In the late morning, the following email was sent from the address of Page Program Supervisor Karen Kipgren:
"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."
According to local news, Kipgren could not be reached for comment. When redirected to House Speaker Charles McCall, he issued the following statement: "The remarks contained in the email are not condoned by me or the office of the Speaker. All Oklahomans should feel welcome in the Oklahoma Capitol building." In response to the email, the ACLU said, "The continued assault on reason places Oklahomans in real danger for the sake of manufactured political hysteria."
It's hard to determine the most alarming aspect about the email in question. Is it the fact that an entire group of LGBTQ students was marginalized as "cross-dressers"? It's possible these individuals may express a wide range of gender identities, from transgender to gender queer to gender non-conforming. But in the eyes of one person, they are apparently all people who are ascribing to a false identity, wearing the wrong clothes, and going into the wrong bathroom. Perhaps the most unsettling part about the sentence is the word "again." Its inclusion seems to say, "In case you're not grasping the gravity of this situation," or, "Let me repeat myself to make sure I'm being clear on what this is."
When something like this happens in an institution like a government building, it's no wonder that these attitudes trickle down into schools and other public spaces. It's moments like these that make LGBTQ youth reticent about expressing themselves openly or even using the bathroom that fits their identity. It explains why cisgender, heterosexual students feel justified when they marginalize, bully, or degrade these students. If a transgender student can't walk into a public restroom that's maintained and protected by the state, where else is there to go?
This sort of behavior runs deeper than just bullying and mortifying students. With people in positions of power sending ignorant and hateful emails, it's no wonder this "political hysteria," as the ACLU aptly puts it, continues to run rampant- even in 2017. In fact, it's behavior like this that eventually leads to a bathroom bill and a vocally unsupportive president who would go so far as to withdraw legislation that protects LGBTQ youth.