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SGN EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Oklahoma City PFLAG President Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards
SGN EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Oklahoma City PFLAG President Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards
Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern's comments spark PFLAG protest and rally, PFLAG-OKC meets with Kern

by Nick Ardizzone - SGN Staff Writer

Members and allies of the Oklahoma City Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) protested on March 18 against Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern to express concern about her widely broadcast comments comparing the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community to a "cancer" that "is just destroying this nation." Kern referred to GLBT Americans as "the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam."

In the aftermath of the protest, Kern agreed to meet with PFLAG supporters on Thursday, March 27. During the meeting, Kern said that "I agree with" the idea that Gay and Lesbian Americans should not be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Kern did not express an apology during Thursday's meeting, nor did she back away from any of her earlier comments. The meeting was, however, her first with a group working within the GLBT and allied communities. Members of PFLAG shared their own stories about why Kern's comments were personally hurtful and asked the lawmaker to remember their loved ones when speaking out and casting votes in the future. Oklahoma City PFLAG President Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards invited Kern to attend an upcoming PFLAG meeting, and Kern said she would consider the request. The Seattle Gay News exchanged e-mails with Rev. Newton-Edwards, who boasts a long history of activism and serves on the Human Rights Campaign's African-American Religious Advisory Committee, about the March 18 protest and whether meeting with Kern on Thursday has given her any hope for healing in the GLBT community.

SGN: Why did Sally Kern's comments warrant a protest?

Newton-Edwards: Representative Kern's comments warranted a protest because they were filled with animosity, contempt, lies, and blanket hatred for the LGBT communities. They had a very real impact on real people and disregarded the large number of LGBT people living in her district and across the state. According to The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, Oklahoma is home to more than 89,500 LGBT citizens; nearly 10,000 Lesbian and Gay military veterans; and approximately 4,000 children are living in loving homes, in Oklahoma, headed by same-sex couples. At least 180 children have found loving homes through Lesbian or Gay foster parents in the state. According to the same institute, Representative Kern's district has more LGBT Oklahomans than any other district in the state.

The three main areas of focus for PFLAG are education, advocacy and support, and PFLAG-OKC organized this protest as a way of responding to Kern's mean-spirited verbal tirade. It is unwarranted and misguided to persons who have long been vilified for their efforts just to live lives of integrity and authenticity. We also wanted to take our protest to the state capital where she works as a public servant, and to provide a public space for our supporters. Unfortunately, much of the basis of her hateful comments is grounded in religious bigotry, perpetuated in far too many churches with regularity on Sunday mornings. Kern says she speaks as a Christian. I, too, am a Christian, but her religious perspective is both foreign and unacceptable to me. My theology revolves around the God who created us equally, and loves us equally, whatever our sexual identity is! Jesus' mandate to us is to "LOVE EACH OTHER!!!"

SGN: What kind of turnout did you have at the protest?

Newton-Edwards: The turnout for our event was great; 300-350, according to many of our longtime activists and based on previous LGBT centered events held in this city. In the history of OKC LGBT events, this event had a record turnout of people. Many of our supporters noticed the unprecedented numbers of young people who were there, as most of our events are attended by the "regulars," who are mostly older. We received very little local media coverage prior to the event, but the event produced an enthusiastic and energizing crowd. Most were from OKC and outlying areas, but Tulsa was also represented.

SGN: Were there any surprising attendees?

Newton-Edwards: [We] met three young women who traveled from Tahlequah, OK, - a three-hour drive - to attend the rally, but missed it because of the bad weather they encountered. & Kern's absurd comments and our attempts to publicly denounce them, I believe, impacted folks in ways and places that we'll probably never know.

SGN: Kern's comments received publicity because they were secretly recorded and later played to the non-sympathetic masses. Do you think comments like this are often made in private?

Newton-Edwards: I believe hateful speeches like Kern's are common, dripping from the lips of biblical literalists, stubborn and irrational, many of whom have historically supported racism/segregation (pro-slavery) and sexism (anti-women).

SGN: Far from becoming a pariah, Kern has received support from many members of the GOP. Is there any hope for people who take Kern's bigoted statements to heart? When faced with this shameless response, is equality a fantasy?

Newton-Edwards: Kern has her loyal and vocal supporters. One such group, "Taking Oklahoma Back for Christ," has scheduled a "Free Speech" rally to support Kern at the state capital on Wednesday, April 2, at 11:30 a.m. It's hard to predict who and how many people will show up at their event. I have been disappointed that more Oklahomans haven't shown a sense of outrage over her comments. Not one person in her district - which has more same-sex couples than any district in the state - has called for her resignation. For that reason, I believe the rally next week will be well attended. It's my understanding that this group is being supported by ministers, and it probably won't take much urging for the shepherds to get the sheep to follow. There is hope for people who take Kern's bigoted statements to heart. Although I believe racism and sexism are both alive and well in America, we still have hope. While much has changed with regards to these issues, much remains the same. Minorities and women have pondered the question of hope from the beginning of time and it continues. But here is the good news: If people like the former Governor of Alabama, George Wallace ("segregation now, segregation forever") could turn from their bigoted ways, which he did, that keeps hope alive for the Sally Kerns of this world!

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