Law & Principles , Culture & the Family

Stitt signs order protecting women’s rights

Ray Carter | August 1, 2023

Becoming the first governor in the nation to do so, Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed a “Women’s Bill of Rights” executive order that bars males from being allowed in female-only facilities and events in Oklahoma.

The order was issued as a growing number of men have claimed to identify as female to access everything from women’s bathrooms to women’s domestic-abuse shelters to women’s prisons.

“We are making sure that women’s spaces are safe for women,” Stitt said. “No men are going to go into women’s prisons in the state of Oklahoma. No men in women’s domestic shelters in the state of Oklahoma. No men in women’s locker rooms. No men in women’s bathrooms. No men in women’s sports.”

In recent years, Stitt has signed measures that prevent males from accessing female-only spaces and events, including a law that prevents males from competing in girls’ sporting events and a law that prevents boys from using the girls’ bathrooms at public schools

However, Stitt’s executive order not only bolsters those laws, but also makes clear that sex-specific language in other state laws refers exclusively to sex, not a person’s self-proclaimed gender identity, filling in gaps left by legislative inactivity.

“Both of my children are in public schools in rural Oklahoma, and just last year my middle-school daughter had a biological male, who claimed to be transitioning, consistently using the girls’ bathroom at her school.” —Somerlyn Cothran

For example, this year, members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved legislation to prevent male inmates from being allowed into women’s prisons, but the bill was never given a floor vote in the Senate.

Similarly, the Oklahoma Senate passed legislation that would have defined “female” throughout Oklahoma statutes to mean “a natural person whose biological reproductive system is developed to produce ova,” but that measure was not granted a floor vote in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The House passed a similar bill that was, in turn, not given a floor hearing in the Oklahoma Senate.

Stitt’s executive order duplicates provisions contained in those two bills.

Numerous women attended the signing of the executive order and praised Stitt.

While transgender controversies are perceived as arising primarily in the urban core, Somerlyn Cothran, an Oklahoma business owner and senior vice president of investor relations at Independent Women’s Forum and Independent Women’s Voice, said that is not the case.

“Even in our great state, our women and girls are not immune to having their safe spaces violated,” Cothran said. “Both of my children are in public schools in rural Oklahoma, and just last year my middle-school daughter had a biological male, who claimed to be transitioning, consistently using the girls’ bathroom at her school. It made dozens of girls uncomfortable, and when my daughter decided to be the one to take action and stood up and voiced her concerns to school administrators, she was told there was nothing they could do and that she could use a different bathroom.

“Today, Governor Stitt is telling my daughter and the millions of other Oklahoma women and girls that he has their back, that they no longer have to fear for their safety in private female-only spaces,” Cothran continued. “Single-sex spaces are reserved for biological males and for biological females, but not both.”

The experience of Cothran’s daughter mirrored that of Riley Gaines, an advisor for Independent Women’s Voice and a 12-time All-American swimmer at the University of Kentucky who also attended the signing of Stitt’s executive order.

In 2022, Gaines received national attention after she was forced to compete against Lia Thomas, a six-foot, four-inch-tall male who competed for three years in collegiate men’s competitions prior to declaring he was now a woman. Among male competitors, Thomas ranked 462nd-best in the country, but Thomas was among the top finishers in women’s competitions.

In addition to a competitive disadvantage that results in women having “to give up our awards and our titles and our opportunities and our scholarships,” Gaines said allowing men to compete in women’s sports also forced female athletes to “share the locker room with Thomas” and be exposed to male genitalia “inches away from where we were undressing.”

“We were not forewarned,” Gaines said. “We were not asked for our consent. We did not give our consent.”

She said Stitt’s executive order will help prevent similar abuses in Oklahoma.

“Biological differences must be respected in the law to ensure female-only spaces have a future,” Gaines said. “It is sad that such basic truths must be spelled out to ensure equal protection, but I applaud Governor Stitt for taking decisive action today. Establishing common language by way of the Women’s Bill of Rights is a way of saying enough is enough: Oklahoman women deserve equal opportunity, privacy, and safety, and this order will help deliver it.”

Other officials praised the executive order for preserving the safety and core rights of women in prison.

“Patients all over this country are experiencing errors in their electronic charts because of confusing, ideologic-driven data fields.” —Oklahoma City psychiatrist Lauren Schwartz

Sharon Byrne, executive director of Women’s Liberation Front, a California-based feminist organization, said her organization is suing to overturn a California law that requires the admission of males (who claim to identify as female) in women’s prisons.

“Many states have been quietly following California’s model, usually adopted behind closed doors; certainly not in public view and (without) public vote and public scrutiny, but based on ideology,” Byrne said. “States can now look to Oklahoma to not only walk away from that kind of extreme policy, but also to stand up positively, affirming integrity in our legal system and equal protection under the law.”

Lauren Schwartz, a board-certified psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Oklahoma City, praised the order’s provisions requiring that medical records accurately report a patient’s biological sex, saying the practice of labeling patients based on self-identified “gender identity” rather than sex in medical records increases the likelihood of tragedy.

“Patients all over this country are experiencing errors in their electronic charts because of confusing, ideologic-driven data fields with some of the largest electronic medical-record platforms having no field to categorize biological sex,” Schwartz said. “Every Oklahoman should be confident when they seek medical services that the documentation system doesn’t unnecessarily introduce errors that could affect their safety or that of a loved one.”

State Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, and state Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, who authored bills to place a “Women’s Bill of Rights” into law this year, also welcomed news of the governor’s executive order given that their legislation did not receive final approval from lawmakers.

“We are both immensely relieved to see the Women’s Bill of Rights take effect in Oklahoma,” Hasenbeck and Garvin said. “Women must be protected in situations where they may be vulnerable, and inviting biological men into these spaces without the consent of the women present is unsafe, unwise, and unjust.”

Freedom Oklahoma, a group that describes its mission as working to support “all Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and fuller spectrum of people whose sexuality or gender or romantic identity exists beyond a heteronormative, binary framework (2SLGBTQ+),” denounced the executive order.

Nicole McAfee, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, called Stitt’s order “a blatant celebration of transmisogyny.”

“This Executive Order is neither about rights, nor is it about protecting women. It is a thinly veiled attack on codifying discrimination against transgender women,” McAfee said. “This bill does not protect women, but instead opens the door for further civil rights violations that open all women to being harassed and targeted as they have their femininity assessed and judged by a public who feels increased permission to police gender.”

Democrats also criticized the governor’s order.

“It is not the government’s job to define the identity of the citizens of Oklahoma,” said House Democratic Leader Cyndi Munson of Oklahoma City.

“It’s pretty rich that a man would feel it’s appropriate for him to define what makes me a woman,” said state Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa. “Even more so, for the government to do it.”

She said officials should instead focus on other women’s issues, such as “abortion care.”

But Stitt said the order imposes common-sense protections for women—as the word “women” has been understood and defined for millennia.

“I’m doing this for my three daughters. I have a 22-year-old daughter, a 17-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old daughter,” Stitt said. “I’m doing this for every single lady and woman and little girl all across the state of Oklahoma. Oklahomans are fed up with attempts to confuse the word ‘woman’ and turn it into some kind of ambiguous, perverted definition that harms our real women.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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