Scott J. Hamilton opens us about the quest for equality in Oklahoma.
After a successful career in the advertising and nonprofit sectors in New York City, Scott J. Hamilton moved to Oklahoma to become executive director of Cimarron Alliance, an Oklahoma City-based organization that works to educate and advance equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Oklahomans. In March, the organization opened the Cimarron Alliance Equality Center, an education center and meeting place for LGBT Oklahomans.
Cimarron Alliance has been around for almost 20 years. It began as a political action committee and moved into a nonprofit organization about four or five years after its founding. One of the big challenges for Cimarron over the years was that people knew it was a PAC and assumed it was expensive to be a part; there was a perception that Cimarron was an organization for rich, white, gay men. The work shifted, but the perception remained a difficult one to change. In December 2009 I left New York and came to Oklahoma to do work (as executive director) in what has proven to be at times a very volatile political landscape, but the work is very rewarding. In the three years I’ve been here, we as a community have moved the ball down the court and have educated about the needs of the community and introduced a sense of normalcy about who the LGBT community is.
I’d been here about a year when talks began about opening an equality center. We prepared a way to do that, then looked at 2014 as a target opening year. Things happened at the end of 2012 that forced our hand, and we had to move with greater speed than we had planned. We raised our flag and opened our doors to the Cimarron Alliance Equality Center in March. In the short time since we’ve opened our doors, the number of people coming in with ideas for services and programming has been truly astounding. One of the defining goals of creating the space was to provide a space where people can come and talk about issues affecting their lives.
Nationally, we are in the midst of more rapid change than has ever existed for the LGBT community. In the last few months, three states and two countries have legalized marriage equality. Many of us would not have thought there would be that much forward movement in such a short amount of time. What we’re seeing in Oklahoma is a ramping up of anti-gay rhetoric and physical attacks on people because of their sexual orientation. When the majority feels like they’re losing their grip, these are the things that happen: rhetoric and violence. This is what happened when women were closer to gaining the right to vote and with the Civil Rights Movement. It’s what happens when the majority feels like things are not like they have always been.
In 20 years I hope there’s no longer a need for someone to be in my job. I hope there is great enough acceptance and assimilation of gay people into the fabric of life in Oklahoma that there may simply not be a need for an organization like ours in its present form. However, it’s going to take a lot of work and be a challenging road to get to that place. We have so many folks in Oklahoma that are ignorant about gay people in Oklahoma. There is a lot of fear, and in some ways the church affords people license to beat up, figuratively, on gay people, and some of that goes to a physical side. While we make progress, we’ll continue to be vigilant in advocacy and activism but also on the education side.
Ed. Note: This interview was conducted prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act. For reaction to the decision by Hamilton and others, visit www.okmag.com.