LGBTQ+ suppression in Oklahoma: A conversation with activist, Andrew Hartzler

By Monica McCafferty
Born into a family with staunch anti-gay views, Andrew’s journey through the mouth of conservative Christianity began very early on. Memories of parental figures, mongering mistrust of queer relatives, and expunging flamboyant fictional characters from childhood bedroom walls, lay impressions of the abomination that is to be gay in their world. After coming out to his parents, Andrew was funneled into the all too familiar pipeline of conversion therapy and an ultimatum of financial severance. This harsh attempt at control mandated Andrew to begin school at Oral Roberts University (ORU) in Tulsa. He describes the conflict of being queer in this repressive religious environment, “A lot of people still have this internal struggle - do I accept my sexuality, or do I suppress it and follow God? Because they're so indoctrinated into thinking that you can't have both - that it's either one or the other."

After failed attempts to repress and assimilate there, he experienced being outed by a neighbor in the dorms, which led to a trip to the Dean of Students and mandated ‘conversion therapy light’ - weekly meetings with the Dean where the bible was weaponized against him and he was interrogated for information on other students who were ‘struggling with their identity’. As a student, Andrew witnessed other troubling practices like the lack of transfer eligibility of many
credits, hindering students’ ability to leave the school without setbacks financially and in degree completion. Sexual healthcare and testing in campus clinics were also intentionally limited, and the ‘ring by spring’ initiative glorified heteronormative and abstinence policies onto students.

ORU undoubtedly contributes to the rising conservative Christian influence in Oklahoma, “It brings people from out of state who end up staying here, and they're changing the political climate to be more anti-progressive“, says Andrew.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), there are currently 34 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in Oklahoma for this legislative session. Three bills, in particular, are on Andrew’s radar. “It’s subliminal hate," he says.

Introduced this year by Sen. David Bullard, Senate bill (SB) 129 would implement the Millstone Act, prohibiting the administration of or referral to any gender-affirming care for anyone under the age of 26, making it a felony for physicians to administer care. Intended to protect children from being ‘legally sexually mutilated’ and “from those who want to benefit financially at their
expense”, in name, the Millstone Act references Matthew 18:6, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.” This overt and egregious religious overreach into policy-making could make gender-affirming care for transgender youth as well as legal adults in the state unavailable.

Another set of bills with broad government overreach and an assault on civil rights is House Bill (HB) 2186, which prohibits drag performance in the presence of minors. This document defines a ‘Drag performer’ as a male or female performer who adopts a flamboyant or parodic feminine or masculine persona with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup. And HB 2736, which ‘bans drag shows in public spaces and screenings’ and adds another troubling definition of ‘Drag Performance’ as a performance [live or otherwise] in which a performer exhibits a gender that is different from the gender assigned to the performer a birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience [of one or more] for entertainment.
“I posted a photo and said, this skirt is a felony. Because if that bill gets passed, it literally would be. If I was in a public place, and a minor saw me, the person who owns the place would also be liable”, says Andrew. “And it just boggles my mind - in their view, if you're not Christian, straight, and live a certain way, then you're unacceptable. And if you try to go against them, then you're impinging on their religious freedom. Well, everything that they do is impinging on my civil
In response to his traumatic experience at ORU, Andrew is now an active plaintiff in a lawsuit by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP). Their suit represents 33 students and alumni that seek the end of the Department of Education’s religious exemptions to ‘taxpayer-funded religious colleges and universities that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression’. If the lawsuit is successful, religious universities would have the same consequences for anti-LGBTQ discrimination as secular

Andrew uses his platform online and in Tulsa - serving these communities with educational content and tools for activism. With just three clicks from his Instagram or TikTok profile, you can send a pre-written or customized email to the representatives in Oklahoma who have proposed this anti-LGBTQ legislation. You can find him @andrewhartzler.