A controversy is brewing at the state Capitol after a state employee referred to transgender men and women as cross-dressers in an email Monday morning.
The email, which was sent shortly before 10:45 a.m., was about pages being allowed to use a certain bathroom for the day "as per the Speaker's office," but ended with the sentence, "Again, there are cross-dressers in the building."
Monday was HIV/AIDS Awareness Day at the Capitol, and about 70 students from the Gay-Straight Alliance in Tulsa were there to learn about lobbying and legislation.
The annual field trip by Oklahomans For Equality took an uncomfortable turn, however, when the leaked email started spreading on the legislative floor.
"That is language of the uneducated,” Olivia Cotter, mother of a transgender son with the group, said in reference to the email. “It’s meant to spread fear and hate, and that’s not what we’re about.”
The email made some students in the group afraid to use the restroom alone, so they initiated a buddy system. They also searched for the email's sender to confront her about the message.
“Once we got to her office, she wasn’t there and she wasn’t answering anybody’s calls,” Equality Center program director Jose Vega said.
The state Speaker of the House's office said the email was not sent at his direction and did not come from the office.
The email sent today referring to transgender men and women as "cross dressers" DID NOT come from the Speaker's Office or at his direction— OKHouseGOP (@GOPHouseOK) April 10, 2017
Speaker Charles McCall released a statement Monday afternoon after the email circulated through social media. The statement read:
The email was not authorized by me, my staff or my office. It was sent unilaterally by a House staff member without any input or permission. I was unaware that such an email was being sent, and the remarks contained in the email are not condoned by me or the Office of the Speaker. As Speaker, all Oklahomans should feel welcome in the Oklahoma Capitol building. We are looking into this matter, and it will be taken seriously.
It is unclear if the employee will face repercussions for the email, but what the students want is an apology, from both the sender and the Legislature as a whole.
“For them to go to the Capitol and represent their age group and be greeted with homophobia, with transphobia, it’s unacceptable,” said Vega.
“It’s no wonder that there’s bullying in our schools when our legislators act like this,” Cotter said.
The ACLU agrees the statement from Speaker McCall is not an adequate response. The organization wants to see House leaders publicly denounce hateful and discriminatory legislation as well.
Stay with News 9 and News9.com for more information as it becomes available.