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Tulsa's Oklahomans for Equality honors history, plans for future

Posted at 5:02 PM, Jun 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-21 21:14:46-04

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma's first LGBTQ Community Center opened in Tulsa in October 1996.

But Kao Morris, the Digital Media Coordinator, said problems with the community forced it to move a few times. "The neighbors would get upset that the equality center was in their neighborhood, and it would get vandalized, or the neighbors would kick us out."

In 2005, Oklahoma Equality bought an 18,000 square foot facility that opened its doors as the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in January 2007. Inside there's an event center, a wellness center, and more.

"We have a library that's full of gay literature from gay fiction to young adults to biographies," Morris said.

The Equality Center offers mental health services to about 80 people a month. In 2020, the Center added a medical clinic that sees about 120 patients a month.

"To have a medical space that's accepting and a place to have conversations they may not feel comfortable having with their primary care," Morris said.

Morris said the Equality Center houses many artifacts from LGBTQ life, including a wall memorial honoring those whose service before they were allowed to come out.

"They all wrote their own stories and their own journeys about how they came to be," he said.

Other documents include the early editions of 'The Gayly,' a locally owned gay newspaper, the first gay marriage license, and the first LGBTQ permit for the Tulsa Pride Parade.

"In 2021, we're celebrating 39 years of having an LGBTQ festival in Oklahoma," Morris said. "It's the longest-running LGBTQ festival in Oklahoma."

But not everything in the collection is a positive look at gay life in Tulsa. The Equality Center displays the front door someone vandalized in 2017.

"We still have the bullet hole to remind us of the hatred that some people still have in their hearts, which is sad," Morris said.

The Center also has a list of LGBTQ-friendly businesses on its website.

Morris says the Equality Center is growing every day and digitizing its collection so people from around the world can log on and learn about the LGBTQ community.

"There's just a lot of history in Oklahoma that's related to gay people, and those stories deserve to be told and deserve to be known and preserved," he said.

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