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Lawmakers send bill defining male and female in Oklahoma to Gov. Stitt's desk

Janelle Stecklein
Oklahoma Voice
Oklahoma House lawmakers and spectators listen to debate on Wednesday over a bill that seeks to define what constitutes a woman.

OKLAHOMA CITY — House lawmakers on Wednesday fought over whether the government should be taking steps to define what constitutes a woman as Republicans pressed forward with legislation creating a “Women’s Bill of Rights.”

 would create a new law that defines “sex” as the “natural person’s biological sex at birth.” It spells out that a “female” has a reproductive system that produces, transports and utilizes eggs for fertilization while a “male” is defined as someone who uses sperm for fertilization. Fathers must be male, while mothers must be female, according to the measure.

It also would allow the state to establish distinctions between sexes when related to important government objectives like biology, privacy, safety or fairness.

Supporters said it ensures safety in women’s prisons by ensuring inmates are housed based on their biological gender at birth. They said it will allow women’s domestic violence shelters to choose who they want to serve and require that people only use locker rooms and other educational facilities that align with their birth gender. 

Critics said it’s a thinly veiled effort to harm marginalized communities, including thousands of transgender Oklahomans. They said it’s little more than a move to score political points in an election year and does nothing to actually better women’s lives in the state.

Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, the measure’s author, said in recent years there’s been an “aggressive attempt to eliminate women from being a distinct legal category” in the United States.

She said the bill is necessary to stop judges, bureaucrats and federal administrators from unilaterally defining the word woman.

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“We need to bring clarity, certainty and uniformity to how women are treated under Oklahoma law, helping to preserve single sex spaces that are important for privacy, safety, and equal opportunity,” Hasenbeck said.

Hasenbeck said the bill will preserve safety in women’s prisons. She said it will allow women’s domestic violence shelters to choose who they want to serve regardless of federal regulations, and it would keep children safe in locker rooms and other educational facilities.

She said many states force young women to share private spaces with “fully intact biological males who identify as girls.” The bill clarifies that girls’ locker rooms are reserved for girls. It also preserves programs designed to serve women and protects them in the workforce, she said.

“As a woman, I do not need a government to define who a woman is, define who I am, especially one led by a majority of men,” said Minority Leader Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City.

She said her male colleagues should walk the Capitol halls and see how men talk to women, touch them, and address them.

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Munson said such legislation is political and partisan. She questioned why lawmakers don’t have the same energy to block laws that strip women of rights over their own bodies or ensure that Oklahomans have access to physicians. 

The bill increases harm to already marginalized Oklahomans, she said. 

The state ranks dead last when it comes to women’s health and safety. The bill does nothing to restore rights or tackle the negative statistics when it comes to “trying to exist in this state as a woman,” Munson said.

“I want more women elected to the Legislature on both sides of the aisle so we can have real conversations about what women deal with day in and day out,” she said.

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But Rep. Mark Tedford, R-Tulsa, said he’s received 70 emails and calls about an anatomical male who is entering facilities in Tulsa County parks and exposing women in those facilities to male genitalia.

When women complained to authorities, they were told taking action would be discriminatory and nothing could be done.

He said local leaders told him legislation that clarifies sex definitions was needed to properly administer programs and enforce rules for facilities that have gender usage distinctions.

“We can’t properly give rights to women until we first define what a woman is,” he said, adding that the measure would remove ambiguities in how gender is defined and clarify who is entitled to gender specific benefits and rights.

HB 1446 heads to Gov. Stitt's desk for signature

Tedford said there’s been no need until recently to define gender because most Americans uniformly agreed.

Legislation supporting traditional gender definitions may make the state’s transgender community feel “marginalized,” he said.

“I wish no one would feel marginalized,” he said. “And assuredly the intent of this legislation was not to target or marginalize any community. It’s a definition. I would ask what about the lived experiences of the women being exposed to male genitalia in public facilities in Tulsa County?”

Tedford said the facilities are supposed to be safe spaces for women.

Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, said she objects that the bill is named the “Women’s Bill of Rights” because the bill does nothing to increase her freedoms. 

She said the bill does not give her bodily autonomy or the right to make her own health care decisions. It also doesn’t guarantee that women will receive equal pay for the same work as men.

She also said transgender Oklahomans are not a threat. Estimates indicate there are about 2,600 transgender children that live in Oklahoma.

Ranson said if the bill becomes law, she’ll have to prove her biological sex. She said the state’s secondary sports governing body has to ask intrusive  in order to confirm the biological genders of student athletes. 

She looks forward to the day when women are treated like women and are not constantly compared to men.

“I know that probably sets off some alarm bells in some people’s mind in this room, but I should be treated as a human, not a lesser or second-class citizen to a man,” Ranson said. “And when we get into the definition in this bill, it is saying that if you don’t fit in this or this, you don’t fit.”

The measure passed the House 79-17 along party lines. 

The bill heads to the governor’s desk.

 is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janelle Stecklein for questions:info@oklahomavoice.com. Follow Oklahoma Voice onԻ.

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