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State Rep. Mauree Turner, the first out nonbinary state legislator in U.S. history, was censured by leaders in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday after Turner offered a protester the use of an office in the aftermath of an arrest.
For Turner, a Democrat in their second term, being penalized by state leadership is the latest example of being ostracized as the only nonbinary member of the Oklahoma state legislature — and as a Black, Muslim lawmaker who has continually received death threats. They said they do not always feel safe in the statehouse.
They have watched their colleagues make a target of transgender rights, writing and passing laws such as a bathroom bill for students and a ban on transgender women joining school sports teams that match their gender identity.
This month, Turner took to the floor of the House gallery to press the authors of a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for youth and effectively eliminate it for adults in the state. It is one of 15 bills targeting transgender health care that have been brought in the state so far this legislative session.
Turner said in an interview on Monday that they could not have imagined the near future that transgender Oklahomans may face. Trans adults may be forced to pay out of pocket for gender-affirming care — something one bill progressing through the legislature would establish — and that would create a new barrier for transgender Oklahomans, especially those in rural areas who already face steep health care costs, they said.
“I never thought that, even in my wildest dreams of doing this job, that I would have to talk to Oklahomans through what detransitioning looks like for the next couple of months if this passes,” Turner said. “I never thought I’d have to figure out crowdfunding or anything like that for folks who are trying to leave this state.”
In censuring Turner on Tuesday, Oklahoma’s House leadership said in a statement that Turner impeded a law enforcement investigation into an alleged assault on another House member and on an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper. As reported by local outlets, last week a person protesting the bill that would ban gender-affirming care was arrested after throwing water at a state representative and a state trooper. The protester also “open-handedly hit the trooper on the shoulder,” according to local outlet KFOR.
In a video of the arrest, another protester is seen trying to get between the trooper and the other person, saying, “I want to go home with my husband.”
Republican House Speaker Charles McCall accused Turner of “harboring a fugitive and repeatedly lying to officers” after another individual involved in the incident fled the scene.
“This person’s spouse was just arrested. They came to my office to process. That’s what happened,” Turner told The 19th. While McCall accused Turner of using their position to “thwart attempts by law enforcement to make contact with a suspect,” Turner said that their office was not called about the situation at any point. They reached out to security after someone knocked on their door to alert them to state troopers in the nearby stairwells leading to their office, they said.
“That was when they told me that they were looking for somebody. Then I let folks get their affairs in order, because everyone was in agreeance that they were going to go ahead and turn themselves over,” Turner said. The person needed time to write down emergency contact numbers, to consider bail options, and to process what being a trans person in an Oklahoma jail would be like, they said.
Turner will be removed from their committee assignments without a formal apology for the incident, which they said at a press conference on Tuesday that they would not provide.
“I think an apology for loving the people of Oklahoma is something that I cannot do,” they said, standing alongside other Democratic state lawmakers.
In an interview, Turner said that the language used by the House to censure them further puts a target on their back.
“This is ridiculous. They are waging a war on the people of Oklahoma. On community. On health care. On public education,” they said. In response to bills that would ban gender-affirming care, trans people in the state are trying to figure out if they can extend hormone prescriptions, Turner said.
In Oklahoma, legislation to ban gender-affirming care for minors — and effectively eliminate gender-affirming care for transgender adults through broad insurance and state funding exclusions — is advancing quickly through the statehouse. The legislation is part of a fast-moving expansion by Republican state lawmakers across the country to restrict transgender health care for people of all ages as they push a historic level of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Oklahoma and Lambda Legal are preparing to sue over any gender-affirming care bans or restrictions that become law in the state. While the current bills moving could be amended or further changed before becoming law, advocates are raising the alarm on their breadth and scope — and how many people across Oklahoma would be affected.
The bill to ban gender-affirming care for adults and minors in Oklahoma that sparked protests last week, HB 2711, has passed the House and gone to the Oklahoma Senate, and would go into effect immediately upon being signed by the governor. The legislation bars physicians and mental health professionals from being involved in, or aiding in any way, the prescription of puberty blockers and hormones for trans youth under 18, or the provision of surgeries, a procedure already rare for trans minors.
The bill, which includes a six-month grace period for trans youth currently receiving puberty blockers or hormone treatment, also takes aim at adults. HB 2711 would block the ability of transgender adults in Oklahoma, as well as minors, from getting insurance coverage for hormone treatments and gender-affirming surgeries. The bill also prohibits public state funds from being “directly or indirectly” supplied to any organization or person providing gender-affirming care for adults and youth.
Preventing any recipient of state funds in Oklahoma from providing gender-affirming care would be “catastrophic,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, attorney and health care strategist at Lambda Legal, who is preparing to sue alongside his colleagues if the state restricts such care.
The bill as currently written would impact any provider who receives Medicaid funds — which is most of them, he said. Trans adults in Oklahoma on private insurance would be directly impacted. Gonzalez-Pagan is also one of the attorneys representing plaintiffs in Florida who are suing that state for ending Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming care for patients of all ages.
Republicans have a legislative trifecta in Oklahoma. The current momentum of anti-trans bills in the state stands against previous instances where Republicans failed to enact bans on gender-affirming care — as a bill to ban the care for anyone under 21 years old failed in 2021.
Another bill on advocates’ radar, SB 129, has been amended since it was originally introduced — it would no longer ban gender-affirming care for transgender adults under 26 years old. However, the legislation would still impact adults since it also bans the use of public funds for gender-affirming care.
Harper Seldin, a staff attorney for the ACLU who is also preparing for a lawsuit, said that bills targeting gender-affirming care ultimately create a climate in which it feels unsafe for anyone to seek or provide such care, even if it is technically allowed under the law. He expects the same pattern to play out in Oklahoma.
“I think these bills are meant to create a culture of fear that stop(s) doctors from providing care even when they might be allowed to, by these broad definitions and broad penalties. So it would not surprise me if, much like abortion context, where we saw clinics preemptively policing themselves and closing,” Seldin said.