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Advocates worry about the harm top Republicans will cause decrying nonbinary birth certificates

Top Republican elected officials on Thursday hurried to condemn a legal settlement that allows nonbinary Oklahomans to mark their birth certificates as neither male nor female, and LGBTQ advocates worry about the impact their "inflammatory" remarks will have.

Online news outlet NonDoc first reported the state health department had established a formal process in response to the settlement, which was reached in May and finalized in a court order earlier this month. Oregon resident Kit Lorelied sued state officials including Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye in August 2020 in a bid to have their Oklahoma birth certificate changed.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall all claim the health department overstepped its authority and say the settlement should be stricken.

Stitt went a step further in a statement issued Thursday.

"I believe that people are created by God to be male or female. Period. There is no such thing as non-binary 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. "I will be taking whatever action necessary to protect Oklahoma values and our way of life."

Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Nicole McAfee said the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is intentional and damaging.

"As a community, we are used to going into election years seeing those attacks pick up. I think we're aware that there are measurable negative impacts on the mental health of our community members any time these stories move," McAfee said.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin issued a statement accusing Stitt of using his bully pulpit to attack Oklahomans.

"A national study estimated that 52 percent of transgender and non-binary young people in the United States seriously contemplated suicide last year. The governor’s suggestion that nonbinary people don’t qualify as Oklahomans is abhorrent and completely unbecoming of a governor. Moreover, it is dangerous. We are elected to help people not make their lives harder," Virgin said.

Affirming mental health support for LGBTQ individuals is available through the Trevor Project. Their hotline is 866-488-7386, and help is also available through thetrevorproject.org

Stitt's office did not respond to requests to clarify who the "rogue activists" he referred to are or to elaborate on what "Oklahoma values and our way of life" meant. Frye said in a statement late Thursday the settlement was reached by former Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office, not the health department.

One state lawmaker has already vowed to introduce legislation limiting birth certificates to male or female designations. McAfee said elected officials should not be trying to block gender diverse Oklahomans’ access to legal documents that accurately reflect who they are.

"We've seen issues because of barriers to getting these changes in everything from housing and employment to being able to get a COVID vaccine. So, really, our communities operate better when people are allowed to make this change, which still involves a pretty arduous legal process," McAfee said.

Freedom Oklahoma hosts clinics to help people change their name and gender marker. The next one is in November, but people can register now at freedomoklahoma.org/ngmc-clinic.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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