A lack of data hinders policy efforts to address anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination

When it comes to advocating for a marginalized community, particularly one that is as small a minority as our LGBTQ2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Two-Spirit) community, data is power. Data helps LGBTQ2S+ advocates inform policymakers about the prevalence of anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination, where that discrimination occurs, and how it impacts the lives of LGBTQ2S+ people. For instance, data helps advocates to demonstrate that transgender Oklahomans have a high unemployment rate, aging LGBTQ2S+ people have less retirement savings on average, and LGBTQ2S+ workers were more likely to be employed in industries vulnerable to COVID-19. Data is not the only thing that counts, as the experiences of people living or working in the LGBTQ2S+ community can be impactful and persuasive. But data allows LGBTQ2S+ advocates to present lawmakers with evidence that this discrimination is pervasive and are not merely isolated incidents of hatred; as such, this requires legislative or administrative solutions. Given the importance of data to advocacy efforts, our state government should pursue policies that will further our understanding of anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination.

Historically, there has been limited data on Oklahoma’s LGBTQ2S+ population

Data has been sparse on state and national LGBTQ2S+ populations and the discrimination they face; that lack has only recently begun to improve. Existing information about LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans is rapidly becoming dated, forcing advocates to rely on data that is five to 10 years old. Consider that in 2011, approximately one half of Americans believed that same-sex marriages should have equal legal rights. That proportion grew to 60 percent in 2016 and now stands at 70 percent. 

As public acceptance of LGBTQ2S+ people changes—and their visibility increases—LGBTQ2S+ people’s experiences of discrimination may also change. Up-to-date data helps advocates identify these shifts as they are occurring. For instance, federal hate crime data (which underreports anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate crimes and reflects the disproportionate targeting of Oklahomans of color in our criminal justice system) found that hate crimes based on sexual orientation have remained flat or decreased for the past three years, while crimes based on gender identity or expression have steadily risen. Given how rapidly public opinion and the visibility of our LGBTQ2S+ community are shifting, it is vital that policymakers are able to tackle anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination armed with robust and timely data. 

State agencies should collect voluntary data on sexual orientation and gender identity

Many state agencies collect demographic data such as age, gender, and race/ethnicity about the populations they serve; data on sexual orientation and gender identity are not widely collected. Including these questions would help identify the needs of LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans as well as the existing barriers to accessing those needs. For instance, there is overwhelming evidence that LGBTQ2S+ people face unequal treatment in our country’s criminal justice system. Improved data from Oklahoma’s Office of Juvenile Affairs and Department of Corrections would shed light on the severity of discrimination within Oklahoma’s criminal justice system so that policymakers can take actions to address it. This data should be voluntary (as some LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans may not feel comfortable revealing their LGBTQ2S+ status to a government agency), gathered using current best practices, and used to inform efforts to eliminate anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination.

Furthermore, on any government forms that require listing gender as male or female, a nonbinary option should be added. This would reflect the biological realities of some Oklahomans (and more than a million people nationwide) and improve data gathering on Oklahoma’s nonbinary population.

Oklahoma’s Legislature and academic community should encourage or fund research into Oklahoma’s LGBTQ2S+ community, particularly the most vulnerable communities

Oklahoma’s LGBTQ2S+ community is diverse, and so are its needs and challenges. More state-level research is necessary to identify these needs and challenges within the context of our state. LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans of color, for instance, are likely facing unique challenges from living at the intersection of racism and LGBTQ2S+ discrimination. Transgender and gender nonconforming Oklahomans also likely experience even more severe discrimination than their lesbian, gay, or bisexual counterparts. Aging LGBTQ2S+ people are more likely to have difficulty saving for retirement and are less likely to have family to rely on for support. State-level research would shed light on how Oklahoma’s government can break down the unique barriers these groups face as well as potentially uncover other groups with particular needs. 

Enacting basic legal protections would give LGBT2QS+ Oklahomans resources to fight discrimination

There is ample evidence that some LGBTQ2S+ people are discriminatorily denied housing, public services, and adequate health care. Despite the clear evidence that discrimination is present and harmful, there are no Oklahoma or national laws that explicitly ban anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination in these fields. Only four cities in Oklahoma provide legal protections in housing for LGBTQ2S+ people, and only one city (Norman) provides protections covering public accommodations. Current federal administrative policy provides protections in housing and health care, but since they are not enshrined in law, these protections could be reversed. No one should be refused service when it comes to the things they need to survive, and LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans deserve to have legal recourse available to them if they are discriminated against in these fields.

Housing insecurity, inaccessible public accommodations, and delayed or denied health care can all have economic, physical, and mental consequences that last far beyond the individual instance of discrimination, potentially leading to severe lifelong consequences. Oklahoma’s Legislature should ensure that no one is denied access to the things they need to survive by enacting explicit protections for LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans in housing, public accommodations, and health care.

Understanding problems is the first step to crafting solutions

It is already known that anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination is prevalent in Oklahoma, and it can be assumed that, where state-level data is not present, national trends in anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination are applicable within our state as well. Having Oklahoma-specific data will make even clearer the needs of Oklahoma’s LGBTQ2S+ population, and it will guide our path on how best to address the discrimination levied against them. Regularly gathered data will be crucial to informing our policy efforts in the future, but immediate action is required to address the damage done by the discrimination our LGBTQ2S+ community is currently facing.

 

The Gender Spectrum Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josie Phillips joined OK Policy in June of 2020 as a policy intern and transitioned into a policy Fellowship with a focus on labor and the economy in August 2021. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2020 with a double major in Economics and International & Area Studies along with a minor in Spanish. While she has dabbled in working with various non profit organizations and a political campaign, her most treasured experience before entering the public policy field has been her time volunteering with the Women’s Resource Center, a rape crisis center and domestic violence shelter in Norman, Oklahoma. On the side, she enjoys reading, constantly listening to music, and having loud opinions on the internet.

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