GOP Oklahoma lawmaker criticized for transgender comments

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma lawmaker who helped revive a bill to ban transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports is coming under fire for saying transgender people “have a mental illness.”

Rep. Justin Humphrey, a Republican from the southeast Oklahoma town of Lane, made the comment in an email exchange with a woman who was urging him to vote against the bill.

“I never mind helping to educate the uninformed,” Humphrey wrote in the email obtained by The Associated Press. “I understand … transgender people have a mental illness.”

Humphrey stood by his comments Friday.

“I don’t have any problem backing up what I said,” Humphrey said in a telephone interview with the AP. “If you’re a male, you’re a male to the core. This is science and logic, and science and logic are on my side.”

But doctors and scientists say sex and gender aren’t always the same thing, and the American Academy of Pediatrics says variation in gender identity is a normal part of human diversity.

Allie Shinn, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said Humphrey’s comments were misguided and hurtful.

“People in Oklahoma need real help right now. They need serious leaders to address serious problems, and they ought to wonder about the caliber of a legislator who is using his platform to attack literal children in the middle of a pandemic,” Shinn said.

The ban on transgender athletes participating in women’s sports appeared dormant for the session, but Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, revived the bill last week in a committee chaired by Humphrey, who thanked Hasenbeck for sponsoring the bill.

Oklahoma is one of more than a dozen states where lawmakers are proposing restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for trans minors this year.

Oklahoma’s governing body of high school athletics, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association both have policies regarding the participation of transgender athletes in sports. Both require male-to-female athletes to undergo testosterone suppression treatment in order to compete in female sports.

Opponents of the Oklahoma bill have expressed concern that its passage could lead to the NCAA moving its College Softball World Series, which is held each year in Oklahoma City and is expected to generate more than $20 million in revenue for the city.

In a statement earlier this week, the NCAA Board of Governors says it “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports” and suggested the possibility of events being moved.

“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the statement said.

Humphrey, however, remained undeterred.

“Any big organization that tries to intimidate us, hold us hostage by threatening us with their income: Don’t let the door hit them on the way out,” he said.