Not OK in OK: Republican Calls LGBTQ+ Community “Filth” 

Angyalosi Beata /
Angyalosi Beata /

Oklahoma Republican state senator Tom Woods is facing backlash after he offhandedly called the LGBTQ+ “filth” during a public event sponsored by the Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce. 

Audience member Cathy Cott reportedly questioned the state senator and other speakers about the legislature’s apparent “obsession” with LGBTQ+ citizens of Oklahoma and their personal lives, as well as how they raise their children. “Is there a reason why you won’t answer about the 50 bills targeting the LGBTQ community in the state of Oklahoma?” Cott questioned, adding, “If you are ashamed of those bills, they shouldn’t be there.”  

Cott’s outrage mirrors the heartbreak felt by Oklahomans and the nation after the tragic death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old non-binary student at Owasso High School. Benedict’s passing, the day after an assault by three girls in the women’s bathroom at school, has prompted vigils across the United States and calls for investigations into the circumstances surrounding their death.  

Benedict faced bullying for over a year due to their gender identity. Advocates believe that discriminatory policies at the school made it unsafe for students like Nex, contributing to the bullying they experienced. 

Advocacy groups have highlighted the connection between anti-LGBTQ+ policies and incidents like Nex’s, urging for changes within the education system. Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters has faced criticism for policies concerning gender designation and pronouns in school records amidst this tragic event. While trauma was not found to be the cause of death for Nex, While final autopsy and toxicology reports are pending, trauma does not seem to be their primary cause of death. 

Woods responded to the concerned audience at the event by stating, “We are a religious state, and we are going to fight it to keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we are a Christian state — we are a moral state.” Woods said Oklahoma should be a state of individual freedoms. His following words, however, told a different story. “We are a Republican state, and I’m going to vote my district, and I’m going to vote my values, and we don’t want that [LQBTQ+ agenda] in the state of Oklahoma.”  

His claim that his “heart goes out” to Benedict’s family was not well received by the outraged crowd. 

Instead of walking his remarks back, Woods doubled down on his comments during an interview with the Tahlequah Daily Press. While acknowledging the tragedy of a child losing their life due to bullying, he reiterated his belief that promoting gender reassignment among children and normalizing certain behaviors is unacceptable, calling it an agenda imposed on Oklahoma kids and emphasizing the importance of allowing children to be free from conforming to radical ideologies. 

Oklahoma’s GOP-controlled legislature introduced 89 anti-LGBTQ bills over the past two years, including restrictions on gender-affirming care and bathroom usage based on birth certificates. These laws have drawn criticism from LGBTQ+ advocates who argue that they contributed to the climate where bullying Benedict led to their death. 

For Woods, the backlash was swift and brutal. 

Tahlequah Mayor Suzanne Myer noted that Woods missed an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and compassion. At the same time, Oklahoma State Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn condemned Woods for his “horrifying” comments that left her feeling “disheartened, disappointed, and disgusted.” 

Democrat Kody Macaulay, a Democrat candidate for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, called Woods “a pathetic excuse for a human being.” Macaulay expressed disappointment in Woods, stating that his words did not align with the values of the Air Force, which Macaulay served and Woods recently joined. 

On Monday, Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat issued a statement seeking to distance the Oklahoma Republican party from Senator Woods’s comments. Treat emphasized that he had spoken with Woods and condemned his remarks as “reprehensible and inappropriate.” Treat reaffirmed his belief that all individuals deserve dignity and respect as image-bearers of God and clarified that Woods’ comments did not reflect the views of himself, the Senate Republican caucus, Senate leadership, or the Senate. He expressed disappointment in Woods’ “lapse of judgment,” calling it a distraction from the positive work the party is doing for Oklahomans. 

Senator Kay Floyd joined in condemning Senator Woods’ actions, emphasizing that elected officials are held to a higher standard and that “words have consequences.” Floyd expressed that such conduct is unbecoming of an elected official and goes against their duty to represent and protect everyone equally. She also noted the importance of elected officials working to improve situations rather than exacerbate them. 

Woods demonstrates the cliché, “just because you can say it doesn’t mean you should.” It’s a bad year to tempt fate with a controversial statement, and his political career is most likely over. The only question is whether Oklahoma will send the rest of its Republican leadership with him or whether Oklahomans will hold him solely responsible for his comments.