State’s first nonbinary birth marker criticized
Stitt blasts such certificates, says he will protect ‘Oklahoma values’
Gov. Kevin Stitt and GOP members of the Oklahoma Legislature want to prevent the State Health Department from issuing gender neutral birth certificates after the agency issued this month the state’s first nonbinary birth marker.
Members of the LGBTQ community rejoiced after an Oregon resident who was born in Oklahoma successfully petitioned the State Health Department to reissue on Oct. 7 their birth certificate with their sex now identified as nonbinary.
Nonbinary people do not identify as male or female.
Stitt responded, saying he will take any action necessary to protect “Oklahoma values and our way of life,” comments that were met with near-immediate criticism from across the aisle.
“I believe that people are created by God to be male or female. Period,” Stitt said in a statement. “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.”
Republican legislative leaders said the health department overstepped in implementing such a substantial policy change.
House Speaker Charles McCall, RAtoka, called on Stitt to issue an executive order to “correct” the health department’s actions, which he said exceeded the agency’s scope and authority.
In a statement, Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said a legal settlement regarding birth record designations was reached in May by the attorney general’s office under former Attorney General Mike Hunter.
“The Oklahoma State Department of Health will work with the governor and attorney general’s office for input and counsel on next steps,” Frye said. “Our responsibility is to maintain vital statistics, and we will continue to do so in accordance with the laws of Oklahoma. Should a challenge to the previous agreement be made, we will proceed accordingly.”
McCall said the settlement is invalid and unenforceable because state law requires settlements that “substantially impacts the operation or programs of a state agency” to be reviewed by the governor’s office and legislative leaders prior to the finalization of the agreement.
The House speaker said his office was never consulted on this particular settlement.
Nicole McAfee, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, a nonprofit that advocates for the advancement and equal treatment of the LGBTQ community, took issue with Stitt’s comments.
The Oklahoma way of life does not include attacking those in the LGBTQ2S+ community, McAfee said.
The plus, a new addition to the LGBTQ acronym, stands for other sexual identities not already included in the abbreviation. Two-spirit, which is represented by the 2S, is an Indigenous-specific term that describes people who believe they have a masculine and feminine spirit.
Freedom Oklahoma celebrated the state issuing its first nonbinary birth certificate, but knew the step forward might be short-lived, McAfee said.
“We are in an election year in a time where transgender and nonbinary and two-spirit folks become an unfortunate target for many of our elected officials who are seeking to score points with voters by doubling down on inflammatory talking points,” McAfee said.
The State Health Department requires a court order from an Oklahoma court to change the sex designation on a birth certificate. The Office of Vital Records, which issues birth certificates, is housed within the agency.
In August 2020, Kit Lorelied filed a lawsuit to compel the agency to reissue their birth certificate with a nonbinary sex designation. This came after a state vital records official told Lorelied that Oklahoma does not offer nonbinary as an option on birth records.
“Categorically depriving nonbinary persons from a birth certificate matching their gender identity, simply because Oklahoma does not recognize such a designation, harms their health and well-being, by impeding nonbinary individuals’ ability to live a life consistent with how they see themselves,” the lawsuit said.
An attorney for Lorelied did not respond to a phone message left Thursday.
Lorelied’s case argued Oklahoma’s policy violated constitutional protections for equal treatment under the law, a person’s right to due process and free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment.
At least 17 other states and Washington, D.C., offer nonbinary as a gender option on government documents, according to the lawsuit.
District court records show on Aug. 25, Oklahoma County District Judge Aletia Timmons ordered the agency to comply with Lorelied’s request.
Federal court documents from October reference that a settlement between the parties was “imminent.” The Oklahoman could not obtain a copy of the settlement.
In light of the news from the health department, one GOP lawmaker already has pre-filed legislation for the 2022 legislative session that would prevent the state from issuing birth certificates that list a person’s sex as nonbinary.
Legislative Democrats criticized Stitt’s comments implying that accommodating nonbinary residents goes against Oklahoma values.
“This morning, the governor used his pulpit to attack Oklahomans. Period,” House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said in a statement. “A national study estimated that 52% of transgender and non-binary young people in the United States seriously contemplated suicide last year. The governor’s suggestion that non-binary people don’t qualify as Oklahomans is abhorrent and completely unbecoming of a governor. Moreover, it is dangerous.”
Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, said in a tweet Stitt is out of touch with Oklahomans and using his power to oppress the state’s LGBTQ community. Turner is the nation’s first nonbinary state lawmaker.
“We are in an election year in a time where transgender and nonbinary and two-spirit folks become an unfortunate target for many of our elected officials who are seeking to score points with voters by doubling down on inflammatory talking points.”
Nicole McAfee Executive director of Freedom Oklahoma