OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Republicans formally censured their nonbinary Democratic colleague Tuesday after state troopers said the lawmaker blocked them from questioning a transgender rights activist accused of assaulting a police officer during a protest over anti-trans legislation.
The party-line vote means Rep. Mauree Turner, who uses they/them pronouns, will be removed from all committee assignments unless the second-term lawmaker issues a formal apology, including to the Highway Patrol, which provides security at the Capitol complex.
Turner, the first openly nonbinary and Muslim person elected to the Legislature in Oklahoma, said Tuesday that won’t happen, as Republicans continue to work to strip away the rights of trans people.
“I think an apology for loving the people of Oklahoma is something that I cannot do,” said Turner, flanked by several Democratic colleagues. “It’s something that I actively refuse to do.”
Turner’s denouncement comes as Republicans throughout the U.S. push proposals that advocates for LGBTQ rights say are trying to erase the legal existence of people who are trans and to restrict the expression of people nonbinary, gender-fluid or who perform in drag.
In Oklahoma, recent efforts by the GOP-controlled Legislature to prohibit gender-affirming medical care for trans children and pass other anti-trans legislation, including a prohibition on insurance coverage for gender-affirming care for people of all ages, have led to demonstrations at the Capitol. One protest last week became heated when a protester was accused of pouring water on a state representative and scuffling with a trooper before being arrested.
Officers wanted to question the activist, who was inside Turner’s legislative office.
“When we go up to the representative’s office, we were not allowed in, even from opening the door,” said Trooper Eric Foster, with the Highway Patrol.
Officers ultimately were able to speak to the person in Turner’s office, who was later arrested on a complaint of assault and battery on a police officer, Foster said.
Speaker of the House Charles McCall said in a statement that the House stands by law enforcement.
“I will not allow members of the House of Representatives to use their assigned offices and official positions to impede law enforcement from carrying out investigations or making arrests in the state Capitol,” said McCall (R).
But Turner, who is Black and represents a diverse constituency that includes Oklahoma City’s Asian business district, said one of their goals is making sure all people are welcome at the Capitol.
“I just provide my office as a space of grace and love for all the folks in all communities that seek refuge from the hate in this building,” Turner said. “Trans people don’t feel safe here.”
House Democratic Leader Rep. Cyndi Munson said the House’s censure vote was “absolutely embarrassing.”
“It’s clear what they’re trying to do is silence a member who does not think like them, act like them, dress like them, who challenges their positions, especially when they are running legislation to harm people in our community,” Munson said.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of national LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, also condemned the Oklahoma House, saying a statehouse is where everyone, including lawmakers, should feel safe and heard.
“Transgender people are under attack by extremists who are baselessly trying to limit their private, best practice healthcare,” said Ellis. “Every Oklahoman and every American should be outraged that lawmakers are working overtime to target people, including their own colleague.”