When I was fifteen years old, I was a Ward 4 Councilman on the first ever Youth City Council of Oklahoma City. And let me tell you, I took this responsibility very serious. From town hall forums addressing prostitution and cleaner parks to dialogue with military youth on Tinker Air Force Base (my stomping grounds), I was invested in this city long before the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Devon tower were ever a thing. I have always believed in Oklahoma and Oklahoma City, and saw our community as a great place to grow and develop and succeed. Later that year, I stood next to Governor Frank Keating and accepted the state Youth of the Year title via the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Again, invested. I cared. A lot.
I say all of this, not to lead you to believe I am about to launch a campaign for some type of political office, however to tell you that a lot has changed since my days of youth. I left Oklahoma in 2008, and up until this year, I hadn’t really looked back.
Please allow me to tell you why I left.
In 2007, I knew I was nearing the final straw. At this point in my life, I didn’t see Oklahoma as a safe space for me, and in regard to my identity development as a, ready-to-come-out, gay man. Sure, there were other out and proud individuals, however time and time again, I was reminded that Oklahoma was not necessarily a place where gay people could or would thrive (“See someone to be someone,” and all of that). Specifically, I had been around respected community leaders/members and elected officials since I was a young teen, and countless times from my youth through college, I experienced homophobic and exclusive speak which made me feel like I would never be able to be my true self in Oklahoma. To skip through some of the dramatics, I moved to Los Angeles shortly after I graduated, and it has not been until the past few months of pause that I have actually been able to be still in Oklahoma for a longer period of time.
So, what’s going on? Why haven’t you moved back, Michael, you might be wondering?
I spent last year with grave attempts to be politically correct and inclusive on my blog, however since this year I am striving to be a better and more outspoken activist, I plan to be quite frank with you today.
Specifically, I am somewhat embarrassed by Oklahoma.
People are laughing at Oklahoma.
Please, pause on these pieces for a moment:
“It’s our right to learn. The state can’t say what we can and what we can’t learn.”
-high school junior, re: the AP U.S. History legislation
“It’s not about discrimination or anything like that, it’s just that we want to make sure they were protected,” Brumbaugh said.
-a real quote from a real Representative
A victim services advocate with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections who watched the execution from an overflow room said that a woman ran out of the execution chamber halfway through.
“It was like a horror movie,” said Edith Shoals. “He kept trying to talk.”
I’m not even going to set this one up… just read it – you’re not ready.
And finally, please google, “Rep. Sally Kern.”
Need I go on?
Okay, one more, just because:
“I just don’t have any comment on it. But I will tell you this. I have gone to restaurants with gay friends…”
-Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, avoiding answering whether or not gay people should be discriminated against
Sure, we can find hundreds and even thousands of beautiful and wonderful stories about Oklahoma… yes, despite all of this murk, Oklahoma really is a great state. Though, let’s be honest, I didn’t even touch on Inhofe and Barresi. I digress. People are laughing, and questioning, and watching. And whereas some of these issues pause or halt or move on or don’t, they are still attracting attention and causing many to believe, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” What has been happening in the news over the last few weeks is embarrassing and frustrating, and is leaving a lot of people wondering, What the hell is going on in that state right now?
Legislators and community leaders, you are embarrassing Oklahoma. Well, most of you. Some are actually trying, and I commend those brave souls. To those who are fighting the good fight – please continue to challenge your peers. We have to do better (Emily Virgin, I’m looking at you, and hope others will follow suit in being bold and outspoken about the things that matter to many of our underrepresented constituents). When I was involved in Oklahoma as a teen and through college, I always hoped Oklahoma would be a progressive state which stood up for the rights of oppressed populations. But, the Bible-Belt (hell, the belt-buckle, if you will), and all of that, and I agree. I get it – easier said than done. But we have a unique opportunity ahead of us, especially while we have claimed so much attention from across the nation. We have an opportunity to stop wasting time on bull shit legislation and start caring for Oklahoma (through education, equality, equity, and the list goes on and on).
Are you listening?
I believe in, “Oklahoma Rising.” I believe our state is bigger and better than what the news is portraying. More so, I believe our state is bigger and better than what our legislators and citizens are currently enabling. I am committed, while temporarily here and when eventually away again, and hope you all will also commit. Just as I demanded shortly after the election, please speak up!
Are you are mad about your next Governor (I am, for the few states I call, “home”)? Are you disappointed in legalizations or non-legalizations voted in or out? Are you feeling marginalized by your elected leaders? You are not alone (and the complainers, whether they voted or not, will affirm this statement). Let’s start calling people out, write letters, show up, demand respect and representation for all people. Start a blog, tweet and post on social media. Call community forums and town hall-like sessions. Demand your leaders to be present. Ask questions. Be vulnerable. Learn.
Action counts. Action always wins.
*If you are unfamiliar with, “The Lost Ogle,” please check out their blog – really good stuff, most of which I couldn’t articulate better even if I tried – also, this blog exists as a great real and raw perspective on all things Oklahoma/Oklahoma City.
**Capital photo via KOCO.com; Fallin photo via MetroWeekly.com; Oklahoma photo created by creative genius, Melissa Banks