The Edmond Sun

Local News

April 17, 2014

Oklahoman returns home focused on pro-gay agenda

OKLA. CITY — Troy Stevenson remembers the day when football players discovered him and his boyfriend holding hands behind an Edmond high school. After they had been chased off school property, Stevenson, called to check on his boyfriend.

“He was in hysterics,” Stevenson said. “… Like me, I thought he was scared. Did people see us? What would people think?”

Stevenson found out the next day the teen had taken his own life. He was devastated.

“That sent me back into the closet more than anything you could have imagined,” he said. “It was almost 10 years before I came out again to anyone — including myself.”

Stevenson attended the University of Oklahoma, then left the state.

Now 37, he’s returning as a polished, high-profile lobbyist with a history of success in promoting gay-rights legislation and mobilizing support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He was recently named executive director of the nonprofit Equality Network in Oklahoma. He previously was executive director of Garden State Equality, which has more than 150,000 members, in New Jersey.

Stevenson’s return comes at a critical time for Oklahoma’s gay community. A federal appeals court in Denver is scheduled to hear arguments over the legality of Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage April 17. That follows a lower court’s ruling that struck down the state law.

Stevenson said his focus is broader than marriage laws. He aims to promote equality in all aspects of life, from schools to the workplace. In addition to the Capitol, don’t be surprised to find him hosting town hall meetings across the state to make sure residents hear “these stories so they see the love that these families do have.”

“Going back, Oklahoma when I was a kid wasn’t a safe place to come out. It wasn’t a safe place to be gay,” Stevenson said. “I think over the last decade, more and more people have come out. There’s a lot more acceptance and a lot more understanding.”

Stevenson said his work will be two-pronged: Lobbying for gay rights legislation while mobilizing support in hopes of showing Oklahomans who the LGBT community is. His efforts are funded mostly by individual donations, he said, but also supported by foundations and groups like Freedom to Marry.

One former colleague praised Stevenson for taking on Republican Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey, and leading a push to legalize same-sex marriage there. New Jersey already recognized civil unions when its Legislature last year passed a same-sex marriage law. Christie vetoed it and later appealed a court ruling allowing gay couples to marry. The governor dropped the appeal in October.

“Troy was working 24-7. He was tireless, passionate,” said John Mikytuck, now interim director of Garden State Equality.

While in New Jersey, Stevenson successfully lobbied for dozens of other laws designed to ensure equality for the LGBT community. He’s particularly proud of a bill that bans conversion therapy and a comprehensive safe schools bill.

“I’ve got a proven track record for building coalitions, for building grassroots programs that culminate in legislative victories, so the end goal is not marriage,” he said. “The end goal is full equality for every Oklahoman.”

While much has changed in Oklahoma since Stevenson graduated from college, he’s sure to face resistance.

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, who said she supports traditional family values, had not heard of Stevenson but said she doesn’t expect he’ll have much success with a pro-gay agenda.

“We tend to still be a very conservative state,” Kern said, and a religious one, as well. “I think it will be a while before we see a climate in Oklahoma where people are willing to embrace homosexuality and same-sex marriage.”

Even if the federal appeals court legalizes gay marriage, Kern said she doesn’t expect Oklahomans to take kindly to the news.

She said any such verdict that “forced” same-sex marriage upon the state likely would “awaken a sleeping giant.”

Oklahoma voters approved a proposition outlawing gay marriage in a 75 percent landslide a decade ago. It’s unclear if, or how much, public opinion has shifted since then. Stevenson said his group is commissioning a poll.

He cited sample polls by ABC News-Washington Post that find about 60 percent of people in urban areas now support same-sex marriage, and more than 70 percent of people under 35 don’t see it as an issue.

The state’s Republican Party, which controls both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, defines marriage in its platform as the union of a man and woman, and opposes any effort to redefine it.

“Employers and taxpayers should not be forced to violate their convictions or to bear the cost of granting ‘same-sex marriages’ the benefits that are due traditional marriages,” the GOP platform says.

“We believe that in order to encourage and protect family values, those promoting homosexuality or other aberrant lifestyles should not be allowed to hold responsible positions over children, which are not their own, or other vulnerable persons,” the platform continues.

Despite such strong positions, Stevenson said he’s optimistic about his chances for success.

“This is about love, acceptance and understanding,” he said. “This is not about divisive politics. It’s about making sure the kids born today grow up in an Oklahoma where this is no longer an issue and they can grow up to be whoever they are.”

A study by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute noted that 6,134 same-sex couples were living in Oklahoma in 2010, based on U.S. Census data that year. That represents 4.2 of every 1,000 households.

Stevenson said he’s already spoken with legislators who have at least listened, which is more than he could say when he started in New Jersey.

“These legislators are good people,” he said. “They’re thinking people. They’re listening to the issues, and while they might not agree with us yet, they want to hear from their constituents.”

Still, he admits the Legislature “has yet to catch up with reality here.”

“I think if you go down the street and asked 10 Oklahomans if they thought it was legal in the state of Oklahoma to fire somebody for being LGBT (7 out of 10) would tell you no,” he said.

“We have to continue to fight every day until full equality is a reality, and that’s going to take a long time,” he said.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Candidates disagree with White House’s minimum wage

    Gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said the state needs to have serious growth in high-paying living wage jobs that will provide for Oklahomans.
    Dorman cautioned that while Oklahoma’s jobless rate improved in June, the state’s rankings for the well-being of children has dropped from 36th to 39th place, for one of the largest declines in the U.S., according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Project.
    The unemployment rate in June dropped to 4.5 percent, down a percentage point from 4.6 percent in May, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Gov. Mary Fallin said this week.
    The state’s unemployment rate was more than 7 percent when Fallin was elected during the brink of the Great Depression. Alex Weintz, communications director for Fallin, pointed out that per capita income in Oklahoma was second in the nation from 2011 to 2013.
    The non partisan Congressional Budget office reported in February that raising the minimum wage could kill a half-million jobs in the United States.
    According to The Washington Times, CBO analysts reported, “Once the other changes in income were taken into account, families whose income would be below six times the poverty threshold under current law would see a small increase in income, on net, and families whose income would be higher under current law would see reductions in income, on net.”
    President Barack Obama in February signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour.
    Weintz said the governor believes tax cuts have enabled families to keep more of their money.
    No one is talking about the under-employment rate of families working minimum wage jobs, Dorman said.
    “It’s all fine and good when you have fast-food jobs that don’t cover the bills and that counts toward your unemployment rate.”
    Oklahoma’s minimum wage reflects the federal minimum wage set at $7.25 an hour, a standard set in 2009.
    Fallin signed legislation this year to prohibit municipalities from raising their local minimum wage above $7.25 an hour.
    “If the minimum wage goes up to $15 in Oklahoma City, all of the sudden you would drive retail, business, service industry locations outside of the city limits and that would be detrimental to the economy, consumers and to businesses,” Weintz said.
    Fallin has said that she opposes raising the minimum wage in Oklahoma because it would stifle job growth for small business and lay off workers. A lot of people earning the $7.25 minimum wage are part-time workers and many of them are students, Weintz said.
    “We believe raising the minimum wage is not a good way to address poverty,” Weintz said. “A lot of people earning the minimum wage are actually people living with their parents or other people who are employed full time, and in many cases they are middle class families. So it’s not a good tool to reduce poverty.”
    Dorman said he does not necessarily support the proposed $10.10 an hour minimum federal minimum wage that is being discussed by Congress.
    “I think we need to have a living wage in Oklahoma that is reflective of our economy,” Dorman said.
    About 102,300 jobs have been added in Oklahoma since Fallin took office in January 2011, according to her office.
    The cost of living in the national economy tends to be higher in some other states, Dorman said.
    So a minimum wage increase should be tied to economic gains so that families can pay their bills and afford to care for their children, Dorman said.
    Independent candidates for governor include Richard Prawdzienski of Edmond, Joe Sills of Oklahoma City and Kimberly Willis of Oklahoma City.

    July 24, 2014

  • Forced Entry 1 Firefighters sharpen forced entry skills

    Of all burglaries, 60.5 percent involved forcible entry, according to recent FBI statistics.
    As a result, many home and businesses are installing a greater number of complex mechanisms on their doors and windows. Edmond Fire Maj. Joe Elam said 10 local firefighters recently sharpened their skills during a forcible entry class offered by IRONS and LADDERS, LLC., of Lawrence, Kan.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Preparing for a fall home garden

    Gardening can be a year-around activity for those that have an appreciation for fresh and nutritious vegetables. Some of the best vegetables in Oklahoma are produced and harvested during the cooler weather of fall. Successful fall gardens, however, require some work in the summer growing season. Factors to be considered are location, soil preparation, crops to be grown and how/when to plant.  
    The major consideration for garden placement is sunlight. All vegetables require some sunlight; the most popular vegetables require full sun. “Full” sun means at least 8 hours of intense, direct exposure.

    July 24, 2014

  • OBU dance team celebrates National Dance Day

    In 2010, “So You Think You Can Dance” co-creator and Dizzy Feet Foundation co-president Nigel Lythgoe created National Dance Day in an effort to help people embrace dance and combat obesity on the last Saturday in July.
    This year, on July 26, Oklahoma Baptist University’s dance team will host a fundraiser that allows participants to dance all day for $30. The fundraiser will be in the Noble Complex on OBU’s campus.
    Cami Gower, an OBU junior and co-captain/co-founder of the dance team, said the team’s officers have been planning for their upcoming season since April. Gower is a graduate of Deer Creek High School.
    “Since then we have been coming up with better ways to reach the community with dance,” she said. “This day of dance was a great way to do it and help the team raise funds.”

    July 24, 2014

  • Blackmon.jpg Local cops arrest NFL player on marijuana complaint

    The Edmond Police Department has released the incident report related to the arrest of ex-Oklahoma State star and current NFL player Justin Blackmon.
    Blackmon, 24, a product of Plainview High School in Ardmore, is a 6-1, 210-pound wide receiver in his second year with the Jacksonville Jaguars. At Oklahoma State University, he was a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner as the country’s best collegiate wide receiver.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Women aided in Afghanistan, Rwanda through AT&T

    AT&T renewed its support for the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS program Wednesday by making a $125,000 contribution to the program at Lakeside Women’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.
    AT&T has been a major supporter of Peace through Business since its inception in 2007, said Steve Hahn, the new president of AT&T Oklahoma.

    July 23, 2014

  • Salvation Army pantry closes until September

    Due to an increase of need, The Salvation Army in Oklahoma County has distributed all of its food supply. July 23 was the last day of the food pantry operations. In preparation for the move to the Center of Hope at 1001 N. Pennsylvania, The Salvation Army Client Choice Pantry will not resume operations until September.

    July 23, 2014

  • Payne Co. crash sends Guthrie man to hospital

    A two-vehicle crash in Payne County sent a Guthrie man to a local hospital, a trooper stated.
    Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper James Ritze stated a 2005 Jeep SUV and a 2013 Ford pickup were about a mile east of Perkins headed west on State Highway 33. When the pickup slowed for a truck pulling out of a private drive, the SUV struck the rear of the pickup, Ritze stated.

    July 23, 2014

  • 7-11 Second Street to get new 7-Eleven

    The amended site plan for a new 7-Eleven Convenience Store was approved by the Edmond Planning Commission this week by a vote of 4-0.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Guard adds jobs, revenue to Oklahoma

    During a Wednesday morning press conference at Joint Force Headquarters, members of the Guard touted the findings of an in-depth study addressing impacts the organization has in areas including gross state product, employment and tax revenue.

    July 23, 2014

Featured Ads
NDN Video
Bill Murray Continues To Be Just Bill Murray By Eating Some Free Bill Murray Ice Cream Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect Hillary Clinton Blamed Bill's Affair With Monica Lewinsky On Abuse He Suffered As A Child 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot Samsung Pre-Trolls The IPhone 6 With New Ad Jimmy Kimmel Introduces His Baby Girl
Poll

If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
Undecided
     View Results