The Norman Transcript

September 30, 2010

Proclamation support depends on perspective

By Andrew Knittle
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — When the Norman City Council voted in favor of proclaiming October as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month on Tuesday during its regular meeting, they did so in the face of tremendous opposition — and support.

For every resident who stepped to the podium to express disapproval of the proclamation, there was another one right there to express support.

Reasons for individual support or disapproval were as varied as the audience itself.

Amy Venable, pastor at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in Norman for the past three-and-a-half years, said she supported the proclamation because it hit close to home for many in her congregation. She said 11 children in her church “have two moms” at home.

Venable said the children are always welcome in her church.

“And if anyone ever wants to argue with me about the moral choices of their parents — the right, the wrong of it — I point out that those children have a right to come and worship in my church and go to vacation Bible school and make felt puppets and come to water day and learn about Jesus and hear the sermons and sing the songs,” she said. “(The same) as I had as a kid growing up in Tulsa to two very boring, very straight parents.”

Venable commended the parents of the 11 children, saying that she would “hate to think” about them being bullied simply because of their parents’ sexual orientation.

“I’m proud that they are in a church where they can feel OK,” she said. “They can feel just like everybody else and no one questions them about their home life.”

Dana Jackson, who moved to Norman from Los Angeles 10 years ago, said she is tired of GLBT community’s plight being compared to Civil Rights.

“I’m bi-racial … I know first-hand what it’s like to deal with that issue (discrimination),” said Jackson, who admitted that Norman’s not perfect in her eyes.

Jackson said even though she’s seen discrimination in the city, she still “loves Norman” and believes it to be a good place to raise a family.

“If you come from hardships and things that I’ve seen in Los Angeles, California, (then) you’d be very blessed to get here,” she said. “Yes, there’s some bigotry, yes there’s some prejudice, and yes all of that needs to be addressed, but one of the things I’m opposed to is putting (GLBT issues) in the same category as civil rights.”

Jackson also said she didn’t see the need to “exalt” a segment of society based on their sexual orientation.

“For someone to be exalted because of what they choose to do in the privacy of their own bedroom is wrong,” she said. “Unless you tell me what you’re doing in your bedroom, I’m not going to know.”

Jack Dawson, who called himself a “conservative first, Republican second,” didn’t necessarily fit the mold of the typical supporter. He said he looks forward to the day Sarah Palin is sworn in as president.

But Dawson said he couldn’t let his politics cloud his judgment on the proclamation. He said he had listened to numerous arguments against the proposition, but still wasn’t convinced the proclamation shouldn’t be made.

“I just think most of the arguments against it are misguided, misinformed,” Dawson said, referring to repeated claims from the audience that members of the GLBT community were simply choosing a lifestyle. “I believe with all my heart that there is nothing voluntary about whether you are a homosexual or not.”

Dawson said his ex-wife is a lesbian and that living with her for 10 years convinced him that homosexuals are born the way they are.

“I can guarantee that there is no choice,” he said. “I will believe that until the day I die.”

Fred Pope said he and his family moved to Norman 15 years ago looking for a place that didn’t necessarily embrace the GLBT community.

“We moved here so we could raise a family in a great location,” Pope said. “And what this does tonight is begin to undermine that, tear it down and pull it back.”

He said council’s actions on Tuesday, regardless of the outcome, would have far-reaching consequences now that the topic was out in the open.

“You’ve started the divide in the community, and it’s not going to end,” Pope said to members of council.

Pope, who has gathered his beliefs over years of real-world experiences and struggles, said he attended a “quilt event” in Portland, Ore., some years ago. He said the quilts had images of people who had died of AIDS on them.

“Quilt after quilt after quilt,” Pope said. “This lifestyle is so destructive … it broke my heart to see young man after young man … on a quilt because they engaged in a lifestyle they thought would set them free.”

Alice Kloker said she supported the proclamation because she hopes that it will help reassure friends of hers that are part of the GLBT community that Norman is a safe place to visit and live.

Kloker said she and her husband have lived in Norman for three years and that they “love it here, we think it’s a great community.”

But Norman’s definitely not perfect, she said.

“One thing that’s difficult for us, though, is we have a hard time convincing our gay, lesbian and transgender friends to come visit us here,” Kloker said. “Because they don’t think it’s going to be safe and they don’t think this is a good place to bring their children and they don’t think this is a good place to bring their family.”

She said she feels like people have a lot of negative stereotypes about Oklahoma, something passing the proclamation could help.

“Maybe if this proclamation passes, I can invite (my GLBT friends) and they can come next October and I can show off the city of Norman to them and say, ‘Look at what a great town this is,’” Kloker said.

Michael Robbins didn’t support the proclamation because he felt it was a waste of the council’s time.

“When the citizens of Norman went and voted on their city councilmen, I seriously doubt they thought this would be how you’re spending your time,” Robbins said. “We face tremendous uphill struggles, we need potholes fixed in city roads … we need bridges fixed, and here we sit discussing a moral issue that we’re going to argue ’til the end of time.”

He also said he felt like everybody in attendance Tuesday would feel the same way they did when they came in, regardless of what was said Tuesday night.

“The bottom line, look how you’re spending your time representing us … debating a proclamation that doesn’t make one iota on running city business,” Robbins said. “This is of zero importance to the firemen wondering if they’re going to be employed in January.”

But one member of the audience, one who said he didn’t intend to speak during the meeting, offered a bit of science to conversation dominated by opinions and beliefs.

Joe Henning, a retired medical doctor who worked in Norman for decades, said homosexuality is no longer considered by medical authorities to be a mental health disorder. Hasn’t been for decades.

“The homosexual lifestyle is a misnomer, it is not a lifestyle,” he said. “It’s like having blue eyes or brown eyes, you’re born that way. And whether you have blue eyes or brown eyes, are you normal? Are you abnormal if you have one color or the other?”

Henning said after years of perusing peer-reviewed medical journals on the subject of homosexuality, he is left with just one conclusion.

“Homosexuality is an inborn thing,” he said. “Sexual orientation is not a choice, it’s what you are. And if that’s what you are and you’re discriminated against, it’s wrong.”

In the end, it took about four hours, but council voted 7 to 1 in favor of passing the proclamation. Only Councilman Dan Quinn, who said he had to listen to his constituents, voted against it.

Andrew Knittle 366-3540 aknittle@normantranscript.com