But for now, with a good scholarship at the university and high rents outside the state, Lukas is staying put. “The general community is kind of shrinking and, as time goes on, I imagine it’s just going to get smaller after this,” he said.
Trans people across the state told BuzzFeed News the introduction of dozens of bills that target sex education, forcibly out trans youth in schools, and criminalize doctors who provide gender affirming care has already harmed the community. Many are reconsidering their long-term plans to stay in Oklahoma. Even though lawmakers have pulled back one attempt to raise the age to access gender-affirming care, it’s making a point, they said: that the rights of trans people of any age in the state are under attack.
In Oklahoma City, Nile Glover, a 30-year-old trans woman, has already made the difficult decision to flee this month with her partner, Violet, who is nonbinary. Glover said when she learned about SB 129 it felt like a warning sign. She began crowdfunding to cover moving fees after the bill was introduced last month and drove out to Colorado with her partner to look for an apartment.
“They’re very clearly coming for us specifically. We don’t want to stick around and wait for something to stick and live in whatever hellscape that’s going to be,” Glover said. She had always planned to leave Oklahoma one day, but she never imagined having to do it under these circumstances. “It sucks to be kind of ripped away from your family and everyone you care about,” she said. “We’re basically starting over. That’s very scary.”
Nicole McAfee, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, a Two-Spirit LGBTQ advocacy organization, believes that bills like SB 129 are proposed to intentionally appear extreme; legislators can then strike a “compromise” that doesn’t go as far as their original text. Their group is tracking at least 45 other state bills that target LGBTQ people, a dozen of which aim to restrict access to trans healthcare. Both SB 250 and SB 252 would restrict public funding for care for minors; it’s likely they’ll pass this year. Another bill, HB 1011, would ban gender-affirming care for Oklahomans under the age of 21.
The bills advancing in Oklahoma’s legislature sit in opposition to the recommendations of major medical associations that deem gender-affirming care as “medically necessary” for trans youth. The American Medical Association has repeatedly said that it is “inappropriate and harmful” for politicians to interfere with this kind of care.
“It’s especially important to make sure that people know there’s not any age when it’s appropriate to ban best practice medical care for trans folks,” McAfee said.
Oklahoma has already rolled back access to care for some trans youth. In October 2022, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed SB 3, which blocked funding for gender-affirming care for minors at OU Health, the state’s only children’s hospital.
On Monday, Stitt delivered a State of the State address and made clear that restricting this care to minors was a top priority. “I’m calling for the legislature to send me a bill that bans all gender transition surgeries and hormone therapies on minors in the state of Oklahoma,” he said to a standing ovation of legislators.
Outside the state capitol building, however, dozens of protesters — everyday trans Oklahomans, organizers, and policy advocates — gathered for a rally in opposition to Stitt’s proposed future.