When a tour group of LGBTQ youth visited Oklahoma’s Capitol on Monday, a House staffer warned young staffers to use other private bathrooms because there were “cross-dressers in the building.”
On Monday afternoon, a staffer with pro-LGBTQ group Oklahomans for Equality began filming a Facebook Live video from inside the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Capitol building. High school students, dressed up for their field trip to the Capitol, talked excitedly among themselves. They had come to the Capitol to speak with legislators on issues facing Oklahoma’s LGBTQ youth. But on their way through the building, the group came to a halt as their leader made an announcement.
“Every year we bring LGBTQ youth to the Capitol. This year we came again to advocate for LGBTQ youth, especially school funding because that’s a real issue this year,” Toby Jenkins, the group’s executive director announced in the video. “But this year we got here, and we’re just going about our business visiting our legislators when we were told that there had been a message sent to all of the legislators in the building to be warned: ‘Be aware that there are cross-dressers in the building, and you can use private bathrooms if you need to.’”
Jenkins was referring to an email later surfaced by the Tulsa World. The email, titled “Ladies Restroom,” went out to multiple offices in the Capitol while the LGBTQ students toured the building.
“As per the Speaker’s office, Pages are being allowed access to the ladies restroom across from 401, for today,” read an email from Karen Kipgen, a supervisor for the House’s Page Program. “Again, there are cross-dressers in the building.”
The Page Program is a week-long pseudo-internship in which high school students sit in on House proceedings and run errands for staff. The pages are the same age or older than the students who toured the Capitol on Monday.
But Kipgen’s email implied that the visiting children might be dangerous predators with whom pages should not share a bathroom. The email also implied that Kipgen’s orders had come from the office of House Speaker Charles McCall.
In a statement, McCall’s office denied having called the children “cross-dressers” or arranging alternate bathrooms for pages.
“The email was not authorized by me, my staff or my office,” McCall said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “It was sent unilaterally by a House staff member without any input or permission. I was unaware that such an email was being sent, and the remarks contained in the email are not condoned by me or the Office of the Speaker. As Speaker, all Oklahomans should feel welcome in the Oklahoma Capitol building. We are looking into this matter, and it will be taken seriously.”
Kipgen did not return a request for comment.
But shortly after the email went out, McCall’s office appeared less contrite. In their livestream, the Oklahomans for Equality group walked to McCall’s office to confront the legislator in person.
“That’s what bigots call us: ‘cross-dressers,’” Jenkins told a staffer in McCall’s office when the group arrived to request a meeting with McCall. “That is not the language you use to describe children… That is insulting and I am embarrassed that the state would do something like that.”
“OK,” the staffer said, declining to offer any further comment. She appeared to have been stifling laughter earlier during Jenkins’s speech. When Jenkins asked to meet with McCall, the staffer told him the speaker was unavailable. “Do you have a business card with you?” the staffer asked Jenkins, who was leading approximately 70 students on a scheduled tour of the building.
Another staffer intervened, telling Jenkins he would look into the incident, but that Jenkins’s request to hear an answer before the group left at 1 p.m. might be unreasonable.
“We’ll see what we can do,” the second staffer said on the video. “One o’clock is kind of a tight deadline, especially with lunch, when we’re at caucus.”