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April 13, 2014

Okla. man’s focus on equality

NORMAN — Troy Stevenson remembers the day when football players discovered him and his boyfriend holding hands behind an Edmond high school. After they had been chased off school property, Stevenson called to check on his boyfriend.

“He was in hysterics,” Stevenson said. “… Like me, I thought he was scared. Did people see us? What would people think?”

Stevenson found out the next day the teen had taken his own life. He was devastated.

“That sent me back into the closet more than anything you could have imagined,” he said. “It was almost 10 years before I came out again to anyone — including myself.”

Stevenson attended the University of Oklahoma, then left the state.

Now 37, he’s returning as a polished, high-profile lobbyist with a history of success in promoting gay-rights legislation and mobilizing support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He was recently named executive director of the non-profit Equality Network in Oklahoma. He previously was executive director of Garden State Equality, which has more than 150,000 members, in New Jersey.

Stevenson’s return comes at a critical time for Oklahoma’s gay community. A federal appeals court in Denver is scheduled to hear arguments over the legality of Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage Thursday. That follows a lower court’s ruling that struck down the state law.

Stevenson said his focus is broader than marriage laws. He aims to promote equality in all aspects of life, from schools to the workplace. In addition to the Capitol, don’t be surprised to find him hosting town hall meetings across the state to make sure residents hear “these stories so they see the love that these families do have.”

“Going back, Oklahoma when I was a kid wasn’t a safe place to come out. It wasn’t a safe place to be gay,” Stevenson said. “I think over the last decade, more and more people have come out. There’s a lot more acceptance and a lot more understanding.”

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