Data shows discrimination is a clear barrier to the success of LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans

LGBTQ2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Two-Spirit) Oklahomans have a right to the same opportunity to thrive as cisgender and heterosexual Oklahomans. There is nothing about anyone’s gender or sexuality that makes them inherently less able to support themselves or others. There are, however, forces—namely discrimination—that can damage and limit their ability to prosper. 

It’s more difficult to do well in school when you are targeted by your peers or unsupported by your family because of who you are; it’s more difficult to find or hold down a job when your identity has been until very recently a fireable offense; it’s more difficult to be healthy when your doctors disrespect or even refuse to treat you. Our LGBTQ2s+ friends and family face many obstacles as they seek to live in and contribute to our communities. To ensure every resident has equal opportunities for success, Oklahoma’s elected officials and policymakers must understand the variety of ways discrimination impacts LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans’ lives.

Census Pulse data gives new insight into LGBTQ+ Oklahomans

Recent data from the Census Pulse Survey has shed light on some of the many barriers to thriving that LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans face as a result of discrimination. The Pulse Survey, which has been ongoing throughout the pandemic, only recently began to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity with the first round of data being gathered in July 2021. The Census Bureau’s decision to collect this data is an important step towards overcoming the lack of information on LGBTQ2S+ populations at the state and national levels. It is a good first step, as many federal and state agencies currently do not collect sexual orientation and/or gender identity information. 

More data is necessary to fully quantify the extent of anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination and its impacts on LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans’ ability to thrive. For instance, the Pulse survey did not gather information on two-spirit people, and due to small sample sizes for the state-level data, conclusions can not be meaningfully drawn about individual sexual orientations or gender identities. Instead, these results only allow us to compare LGBT Oklahomans to non-LGBT Oklahomans. This limitation highlights the need for more thorough research into the different subpopulations of Oklahoma’s LGBTQ2S+ community. The results so far, however, show that LGBT Oklahomans face greater financial insecurity and mental health challenges than the public at large.

Census Pulse data shows that LGBT Oklahomans are disproportionately struggling

According to the Census Pulse survey data, LGBT Oklahomans clearly are facing hardships at higher rates than the general population. LGBT Oklahomans were significantly more likely to report having someone in their household who lost employment income (through losing a job or having hours cut), having difficulty paying for usual household expenses, and not having enough food to eat. 

The most severe disparities, though, were in mental health. LGBT Oklahomans experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression at approximately double the rate of non-LGBT Oklahomans. One particularly troubling finding was that, for some weeks, LGBT Oklahomans were three and four times more likely to report feeling down, depressed, or hopeless nearly every day compared to non-LGBT Oklahomans. While it is unsurprising that a historically marginalized group would experience more symptoms of mental distress, the magnitude of this disparity is severe. Unfortunately, these findings are in line with national research that finds higher rates of mental illness among LGBT people.

Transgender Oklahomans face even more severe discrimination 

We are not be able to draw conclusions about Oklahoma’s transgender and two-spirit people from the Census Pulse data due to small sample sizes. In the case of two-spirit people, the survey excludes them entirely. However, studies done in previous years show that gender nonconforming people face even more severe discrimination than more gender conforming lesbian, gay, or bisexual people. 

When it comes to Oklahoma’s transgender population, there has only been one piece of extensive research done. While it is a six-year-old survey relying on self-reported data rather than empirical measurement, it still provides compelling evidence of the many struggles that transgender Oklahomans face. In this survey, transgender Oklahomans reported astonishingly high rates of homelessness, poverty and unemployment, likely stemming from their experiences of harassment and discrimination in schools, workplaces, and public accommodations.

All of these struggles are reflected in the community’s high suicide rates. Two in five transgender adults have attempted suicide in their lifetimes, and in 2020, one in five transgender youth reported attempting suicide within the past year alone.

The statistics shared here, while grim, are not inevitable. Acceptance by family and peers has been proven to reduce suicide rates among LGBTQ2S+ youth in general but especially among gender nonconforming youth

Our two-spirit community lives at the intersection of racism and anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination

There is no state-level data for two-spirit people living in Oklahoma, but national data indicates that they are facing discrimination by virtue of being both American Indian and gender nonconforming. A 2015 report on the U.S. two-spirit population found that more than one in three had lost a job—and almost half had been denied housing—because of their gender identity. One study cited in the report noted that more than half experienced food insecurity, and nearly one in four were living in extreme poverty—earning less than $10,000 per year. These burdens contribute to American Indian/Alaskan Native LGBTQ2S+ youth attempting suicide at more than twice the rate of non-Native LGBTQ2S+ youth. 

More and better data is needed

The information presented here draws heavily from national studies, too many of which are outdated. More and better data is needed, especially at the state level so we can get a more robust understanding of the obstacles facing LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans. The evidence so far makes it abundantly clear that many LGBTQ2S+ Oklahomans face persecution and hardships due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression. 


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


Josie Phillips joined OK Policy in June 2020 as a policy intern and transitioned into a policy Fellowship with a focus on labor and the economy in August 2021. She served as a Policy Fellow until July 2022. She currently serves as State Priorities Partnership Fellow with the Maine Center on Economic Policy. Josie 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.

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