The university’s Pride Month kickstarted this week with an open panel designed to discuss important LGBTQ+ issues and answer student questions. Dr. Marianne Blair, professor of international and comparative family at TU, Preston Brasch, president of Outlaws at TU Law, Michael Mills, dean of community relations for True Blue Neighbors, and Sharon Queen, representing Oklahoma for Equality Gender Outreach Program, had a lot to say in regard to LGTBQ+ topics both on and off-campus.

When asked about the evolution of LGBTQ+ rights, especially within Oklahoma, Mills responded: “We continue to have laws passed all the time that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people….For every step forward, we take several steps back.” This becomes doubly relevant when one realizes that 27 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were proposed in the Oklahoma House’s last session alone. Queen believes “we really have to get beyond hiding behind the term ‘religious freedom.’” In her mind, the beliefs of one group of people have been proclaimed as more important than those of others, which becomes an enormous problem for the people whose personal identities those beliefs attempt to invalidate. “If Oklahomans can start to speak more on behalf of marginalized citizens, then we can start making progress,” said Brasch. While these bills were all defeated, the panelists are convinced the fact that they were proposed at all shows there is a real problem in the way people and government see those in the LGTBQ+ community. “I don’t need special rights or different rights, just the same rights,” asserted Queen in a sentiment that many in the LGTBQ+ community echo.

On the topic of the university’s recognition of LGTBQ+ students, Blair stated that, while the university has anti-harassment policies to protect students, policies dedicated to gender recognition, and offers some available accommodations, “there is always room to do more and to do better.” Brasch believes a good place to start improving would be in Career Services, arguing that “it’s important to provide students with a network they can connect with and succeed in once they leave.” Mills works to improve university recognition of and relations with LGBTQ+ students all the time not only because it is important, but also because, as he said: “I don’t want our students to feel we are a close-minded campus.”

In the last moments of the panel, the discussion turned to allies. From a student perspective on the campus community in particular, Brasch commented: “The visible support from allies, from an emotional standpoint, has been really nice to see…it gives me a lot of hope for the future.” However, on a wider scale, the need for allies has only increased during the current political atmosphere. It is not good enough to stand in the shadows as a neutral bystander in the face of discrimination. “When you’re in an uncomfortable situation, the most comforting thing to have is a group…maybe not like-minded people, but people willing to walk next to you,” said Queen.

Now more than ever, the LGBTQ+ community needs the support of their fellow people to counter injustice and fight for their human rights. The panel as a whole argued that one cannot be a supporter and be silent, encouraging people to take an active role either as a member of the LGBTQ+ community or as an ally. “Be seen. That’s how you affect change. Be seen. Be willing to stand up,” declared Queen.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Mills remarked: “We’ve got a long way to go. Evenings like this are important.”