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Oklahoma bill would ban state agencies from celebrating Pride Month

Oklahoma’s “Patriotism Not Pride Act” is among more than 50 bills filed by state lawmakers so far this year targeting the LGBTQ community.
Shawnasea Laehn, Mac Seigel, Emil Winter show their support for the the annual Pride Alliance Pride Parade in Downtown Oklahoma City on June 25, 2023.
Shawnasea Laehn, Mac Seigel and Emil Winter show their support at last June's Oklahoma City Pride Parade.Alonzo J. Adams / Use Today Netw / The Oklahoman

A bill introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature on Monday would bar state agencies from celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month or displaying rainbow Pride flags on state property at anytime of year. 

Oklahoma’s “Patriotism Not Pride Act,” introduced by Republican state Rep. Kevin West, would prohibit state agencies from using public funds to “develop, organize, administer, engage in, promote, or endorse any activity, including any event, initiative, official communication, social media post, educational program, or public campaign, that aims to promote or recognize Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Pride Month or any event with a similar theme.”

If enacted, the bill would trigger an immediate state of emergency “necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety” and would also ban any flag “that represents sexual orientation or gender identity” on state property or grounds.

The legislation, sponsored by West and Republican state Sen. David Bullard, is among the first to target the use of state funds for Pride initiatives and celebrations. So far this year, lawmakers in at least two other states — Florida and Tennessee — introduced bills that would ban rainbow Pride flags in schools. Florida’s bill would also prohibit government employees, including lawmakers, from displaying rainbow flags. 

West said he authored the legislation "because Oklahoma taxpayer dollars should not be used to promote or recognize activities that are not in line with the values of most Oklahomans."

"These groups would still have the freedom to express their views or opinions or tell the world about their lifestyle choices, they would simply not be able to use state resources to do so," West said in an email.

Bullard did not immediately return a request for comment.

Nicole McAfee, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said the bill is "clearly designed to chill speech, and further disrupt the ability of Oklahoma agencies to serve" LGBTQ Oklahomans.

"We’re everywhere — small towns, big cities, on tribal land, and everywhere in between," McAfee said in a statement to NBC News. "We make up communities, and even work for the state. You can’t ban us or disappear us, and it’s a shame that Rep. Kevin West is continuing his obsessive focus on targeting and isolating 2SLGBTQ+ Oklahomans with [this] latest attack. And yet, we’ve always been here and will always be here, during pride and beyond." 

The bill is part of a larger wave of legislation targeting LGBTQ people, both in Oklahoma and nationwide. So far this year, state lawmakers have introduced nearly 400 such bills, and Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced 54 of them, the most of any state so far, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is tracking the legislation. 

LGBTQ Pride Month was first recognized in June 1970, to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City, which is widely credited as a turning point in the modern gay rights movement. President Bill Clinton was the first president to recognize the month in 1999 when he declared June “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” 

The Pride flag, which was introduced at the 1978 Gay Freedom Day march in San Francisco, has increasingly been the target of criticism and vandalism over the past two years. 

In June, three men damaged Pride flags outside of the Stonewall National Monument in New York, and a Pride flag was burned outside of a city hall in Arizona. In February of last year, a woman set a Pride flag on fire outside of a New York City restaurant. In some cases, disputes over Pride flags have resulted in violence: In August, Laura Ann Carleton, a California business owner, was fatally shot after someone allegedly took issue with the Pride flag she had displayed outside of her clothing store.