In The Know: Senator calls LQBTQ+ Oklahomans ‘filth’ during public forum | Nationwide vigils held for Nex Benedict | Lawmakers seek to make abortion laws even tougher

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma News

State senator criticized for calling LGBTQ+ Oklahomans ‘filth’ during public forum in Tahlequah: Sen. Tom Woods is being criticized for making degrading remarks about the LGBTQ+ community at a time when their rights are being targeted by the Legislature and amid outcry over the death of an Oklahoma nonbinary student who had been bullied. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Reactions to state senator calling LGBTQ+ ‘filth’: ‘Words have power, and consequences’ [The Oklahoman]
  • State senator calls LGBTQ+ people ‘filth’ when asked about death of nonbinary student [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Listen to the audio of Oklahoma Sen. Tom Woods calling LGBTQ+ community ‘filth’ [The Oklahoman]

‘We lost a member of our community’: Hundreds mourn Nex Benedict’s death at Oklahoma vigils: Hundreds of people turned out at two Oklahoma vigils to pay tribute to an Owasso teenager whose death has sparked widespread interest, heartbreak and outrage across the state and across the country. [The Oklahoman]

  • ‘It hit my heart’: Hundreds turn out for Nex Benedict vigil in Owasso [Tulsa World]
  • Vigil held Sunday night in Owasso for Nex Benedict [Tulsa World]
  • Vigils held nationwide for nonbinary Oklahoma teenager who died following school bathroom fight [AP via Tulsa World]
  • Photos: Rural Oklahoma Pride and the Point A Gallery host a candlelight service for Nex Benedict [The Oklahoman]
  • Photos: Hundreds gather to mourn Nex Benedict at Owasso candlelight vigil [The Oklahoman]
  • Opinion: We Owe It to Nex Benedict to Do Better by Bullied Teens [Margaret Renkl / New York Times]

Round up of additional stories related to Nex Benedict’s death

  • Police release video, search warrant related to investigation of Nex Benedict’s death [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • In Video, Nonbinary Student Describes Fight in Oklahoma School Bathroom [New York Times]
  • After Nonbinary Student’s Death, Schools Chief Defends Restrictive Gender Policies [New York Times]
  • Editorial: Unraveling the facts surrounding Nex Benedict’s death [Tulsa World]

State Government News

As more women leave Oklahoma to end pregnancies or order pills online, lawmakers seek tougher laws: Demand for care from out-of-state providers has boomed since Oklahoma banned most abortions. A flurry of bills at the Legislature this year propose criminal penalties, wrongful death lawsuits and narrower medical exemptions. [The Frontier]

  • Oklahoma legislature considering dozens of bills targeting abortion. What do they say? [The Oklahoman]

Bill seeks to overhaul Oklahoma petition process by increasing cost, expanding protest period: Critics of a bill moving through the Legislature say it would cripple the process used to get measures on the ballot. But supporters say it is needed to clean up the procedure. [Oklahoma Voice]

Proposed changes in rules for school sex ed would stigmatize LGBTQ+ people, expert says: Proposed changes to Oklahoma law would make it harder for students to receive medically accurate and comprehensive sex education, according to experts who reviewed legislation that recently advanced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. [Oklahoma Voice]

Firms luring employees to Oklahoma with incentive programs could be reimbursed: Businesses that spend money to lure new employees to Oklahoma could be reimbursed if a bill that garnered committee support in the Oklahoma Legislature this week passes into law. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma House bill would establish disabilities task force on wages: A House lawmaker looks to create a task force to prepare for the end of a federal act that allows employers to pay disabled workers a subminimum wage in Oklahoma. [Journal Record]

Oklahoma bill that would require schools to provide free menstrual products moves forward: A bill seeking to require public and charter schools to provide free menstrual products unanimously passed the Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee on Monday. [The Oklahoman]

Capitol Insider: Lawmakers vote to reduce state grocery sales tax rate: After years of discussion and votes that carried over from 2023 to 2024, the Oklahoma House and Senate have sent to the governor a bill that reduces the tax on groceries. [KGOU]

Federal Government News

D.C. Digest: White House watchdog site gets Lankford’s approval: Members of Congress are known more for criticizing government than praising it, particularly when the agency in question is run by the opposition party. U.S. Sen. James Lankford, though, had some kind words last week for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Osage County wind farm owners pitch plan to avoid turbine removal: Osage Wind LLC has proposed that rather than be forced to remove the 84-turbine wind farm it be permitted to remove backfill material used to support the towers — material owned by the Osage Nation — and replace it with backfill “that does not infringe any rights of the Osage mineral estate.” [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma’s mental health crisis: Deemed incompetent, defendants languish in jail: Oklahomans judged incompetent for trial remain in jail up to a year or more because the state does not have the mental health facilities or personnel to provide court-ordered treatment, law enforcement officials and mental health advocates say. [Tulsa World]

State still seeking to keep $1M in cash found during marijuana investigation in 2021: When state narcotics agents raided Green World Garden Supply in Oklahoma City in 2021, they were looking for evidence it was behind black-market marijuana sales. Agents did find cash − more than $1 million. They also found $21,000 in money orders. They seized it all. [The Oklahoman]

Grown in Oklahoma, Smoked in New York: Illicit Marijuana’s Legal Roots: Surplus weed produced in states like Oklahoma is increasingly ending up in New York, fueling its illicit market and complicating the state’s efforts to expand legal cannabis sales. [New York Times]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Rents decline in Oklahoma, defy national trend: On a state level, 71.4% of markets saw positive yearly rent growth in January, but Oklahoma’s median rent was $993 – a decline of 1.89% year-over-year and 1.8% from December. [Journal Record]

Education News

Statewide rules would ban DEI spending in Oklahoma schools, tie academics to accreditation: Under a litany of new rules the state approved Thursday, Oklahoma public schools no longer would be able to spend state funds on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and students’ test scores would count toward their school district’s accreditation status. The Oklahoma State Board of Education unanimously passed 15 new administrative rules touching on a variety of topics. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • The rules for schools could be changing. Here’s what you should know. [The Oklahoman]
  • Opinion, Student: Removing DEI offices from public institutions is a step in the wrong direction [Colin Caso / The Oklahoman]

A growing number of school districts are supporting Edmond in lawsuit against Ryan Walters: A growing number of major Oklahoma school districts are publicly lining up behind Edmond Public Schools in that district’s lawsuit against state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the state Board of Education. [The Oklahoman]

Should chaplains be allowed in Oklahoma’s public schools? Lawmakers, faith leaders sound off: An Oklahoma faith coalition is sounding the alarm about several proposed bills that would allow public schools to hire faith-based chaplains or accept them as volunteers without requiring certification ― proposals similar to a new law in Texas. [The Oklahoman]

Tulsa Community College Cybersecurity Lab’s Grand Opening: The TCC Cybersecurity Lab features two computer lab classrooms and a fully functional data center to ensure students have access to cutting-edge, secure network technology. Once students become familiar with the lab, they will be able to safely access and defend the data center, which operates independently from TCC data systems. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Nonpartisan group urges Tulsa school leaders to focus on family priorities: Tuning out the noise and controversy currently surrounding public education in Oklahoma is no easy task. But it’s the aim of at least one group of Tulsans, who are asking school board candidates and district leaders to ignore the distractions and focus instead on what’s most important to families. [Tulsa World]

OKC Public Schools, Greenwood Rising, and Boeing partner: In observance of Black History Month, Boeing and Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKC Public Schools) are partnering with Greenwood Rising for the launch of a new virtual reality learning experience, Greenwood Rising VR Learning. The platform provides an immersive experience that allows anyone around the world to learn the history of Greenwood, the Tulsa Race Massacre and the stories of America’s Black Wall Street. [The Black Wall Street Times]

The Fate Of Oklahoma Race-based Law May Be Decided Soon: A legal challenge to the controversial Oklahoma statute that restricts educators from teaching race-related topics, currently under consideration in Oklahoma’s Western District Court, is likely to be decided soon. The law, HB 1775, pushed through by conservative state lawmakers in 2021, has hampered teachers across the state from educating students about such issues as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre that affected African Americans who were attacked and many were killed by a white mob in Tulsa or forced removal of Native Americans from the South to Indian Territory in the early 1800s. [Oklahoma Eagle]

Local News

Tulsa city councilors split over creating a reparations commission for 1921 Race Massacre: Not surprisingly, Tulsa’s nine-member City Council is not of one voice when it comes to creating a commission to establish and implement a reparations program for the 1921 Race Massacre. [Tulsa World]

‘Focus: Black Oklahoma’: FAFSA, Tulsa’s Beyond Apology report, Retinoblastoma (audio): This episode of Focus: Black Oklahoma features stories on the need for reparative justice following the ‘Beyond Apology’ report, significant changes to the federal student aid program, FAFSA, and more. [via KOSU]

Tulsa mayoral candidates talk homelessness, tribes and the environment: While the official candidate filing period for this year’s Tulsa mayor race is June 10-12, Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa), Councilman Jayme Fowler and County Commissioner Karen Keith have already been active in pursuit of the city’s top office. [NonDoc]

Opinion, Councilmembers: Despite state’s initial efforts, Black leaders are helping OKC communities grow: Although Oklahoma’s first Legislature prioritized dividing us based on race — and too many in today’s Legislature prioritize banning books and pride flags — a majority of present-day voters prioritize working together to improve pedestrian safety, public transportation and connecting unhoused neighbors to housing, stability and community support services, specifically via OKC’s new street outreach teams comprised of case managers and mental health professionals. [James Cooper and Nikki Nice / The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“If you are a parent, if you are an aunt, a grandparent, a part of the village, we have an obligation to keep them from stealing our future.”

-The Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson, urging Oklahomans to be more vocal in protesting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and hate speech aimed particularly at vulnerable young people. [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Number of teaching vacancies in Oklahoma schools during the 2022-23 academic year, which the highest number reported since the Oklahoma State School Boards Association began conducting its annual survey nine years prior. [Oklahoma Watch]

Policy Note

Race and LGBTQ Issues in K-12 Schools: What teachers, teens and the U.S. public say about current curriculum debates: Amid national debates about what schools are teaching, we asked public K-12 teachers, teens and the American public how they see topics related to race, sexual orientation and gender identity playing out in the classroom. A sizeable share of teachers (41%) say these debates have had a negative impact on their ability to do their job. Just 4% say these debates have had a positive impact, while 53% say the impact has been neither positive nor negative or that these debates have had no impact. [Pew Research]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.