Crimson Quarterly, summer 2022 edition

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Crimson Q UA RT E R LY SUMMER 2022

‘ONLY THING YOU CAN DO IS REMOVE ALL OF THE BOOKS’ The future of race and gender education in Oklahoma hangs in the balance as the Legislature contemplates restricting books on certain subjects statewide.



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NEWS | 4

‘Only thing you can do is remove all of the books.’

The future of race and gender education in Oklahoma hangs in the balance as the Legislature contemplates restricting books on certain subiects statewide. NEWS | 14

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The future of race and gender education in Oklahoma hangs in the balance as the Legislature contemplates restricting books on certain subjects statewide.



5 Across the U.S., states are seeing an increase in school restrictions, particularly on books and critical race theory, with Oklahoma having at least 13 pieces of legislation since 2020 pertaining to the topic. Legislation aiming to restrict access to books about sexual and gender identities made up the majority of the bills. Additionally, many Oklahoma lawmakers hope to further change how race is taught in schools and public universities. Two bills in particular, House Bill 2988 and Senate Bill 1141, each aim to restrict diversity courses and Black history in classrooms, particularly in higher education institutions. House Bill 1775, approved by Gov. Kevin Stitt last May, banned schools from teaching that a person, because of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, either knowingly or unknowingly. This bill, which effectively banned critical race theory from the classroom, caused public uproar, including a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Oklahoma’s

chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Under SB 1141, authored by Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman) and introduced in February of this year, higher education institutions in the state would not be able to require students to take a course that addresses “any form of gender, sexual or racial diversity, equality or inclusion” unless required under their major. Standridge declared the bill an emergency and included provisions saying universities cannot make diversity and inclusion courses a requirement for a major unless the degree program itself focuses on those topics. HB 2988, by Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland), was filed last December as well and read in February of this year. The bill would further ban critical race theory teaching, specifically prohibiting the use of The 1619 Project, an ongoing effort by The New York Times Magazine to reshape the way slavery and Black history is understood and taught in the United States. HB 2988 would prohibit any teaching that

says the U.S. is more to blame than other nations for the institution of slavery or that one race, in particular, is the oppressor or the victim of slavery. Olsen told an Oklahoma City Fox affiliate every race is guilty of being slave owners and every race has been enslaved. Karlos Hill, chair of the Clara Luper Department of African and African-American Studies at OU, said teaching this history under such strictures would be “inauthentic,” and these children grow into adults and voters who do not understand different ways of discussing history in the U.S. and especially in Oklahoma. “Not teaching that history in schools really harms the next generation,” Hill said. “These individuals end up being really resentful and mad when we want to have a conversation about race and when we want to have a conversation about the realities connected to historical legacies of violence.” Hill, a special adviser to OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. on matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion, said legislation such as HB 2988 and SB 1141 make it impossible for people to


OU professor emeritus and civil rights activist George Henderson moved to Norman to start a job at OU in 1967. Henderson’s family were the first African American residents in Norman.

6 work together and live cohesively because students are unable to understand the impact oppression and racism have on society. “When you have these kinds of laws, it just really makes it difficult to move forward as a nation or even a state,” Hill said. “The very work that we need to do, the things that we really need to learn to help enable us to work together better and to understand each other better — it’s being killed. It’s being just rendered obsolete.” OU professor emeritus and civil rights activist George Henderson said if more of these laws are enacted, then all social and behavioral sciences taught at OU could cease to exist because they would be prohibited from discussing race, gender or sexual orientation. Debating critical race theory is taking up too much time, Henderson said, because people are getting hung up on the words and not tackling real issues. “Every micro-unit of time that we spend debating (critical race), that means we’re not spending that micro-unit to teach people how to fight oppression, how to live together peacefully, how to create human societies,” Henderson said. “They’re focusing on the shiny objects, the words. They’re not talking about the behavior.” Henderson said these bills came in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Henderson believes educating about race is vital to the institutions that shape the U.S. “I don’t teach my students to hate one another because of their race. I teach them to understand that we’re different and we have different ideas and different values,” Henderson said. “In a democracy, you do not have the right to intentionally hurt or dismiss the reality of another person’s existence. If you can’t teach about race and all of the other things, you’ve done something very cruel.” Olsen and Standridge say their bills won’t eliminate teaching about slavery in the classrooms, however, Hill and Henderson disagree because limiting the way Black history is taught is rewriting American history. Hill said it is nothing but an “anti-Black movement.” “These bans now render knowledge that we don’t like as obsolete, unimportant and unintelligible. That’s a huge leap. That’s a cultural shift,” Hill said. “It seems that we are making (these decisions) willy nilly. It’s a movement designed to denigrate, defeat and loosen the legitimacy and knowledge of people of color.” Henderson and Hill said lawmakers and voters are getting hung up on the wording of “Black radical politics” and “critical race theory” rather than focusing on how to teach children how to grow up and learn as responsible


members of society. “The only race of any significance is the human race,” Henderson said. “When we die, we die the same way. When we love, we love the same way. When we live, we live the same way. I have no time for critical race arguments. I’m going to teach that no individual’s life should be determined by other individuals prejudging them.” Henderson said bills focusing on critical race theory transpose hatred and that bills hoping to censor books have never worked in history because oral historians will tell the stories of oppressed people. “There’s nothing logical or rational about hating people you don’t know,” Henderson said. “So you ban the books. Then you have people like me, oral historians, tell everybody about what it was like before we had the books.” As Oklahoma lawmakers hope to restrict materials in class as it pertains to race, other pieces of legislation moving alongside these bills include provisions to censor books specifically pertaining to sex, sexuality and gender identity. Senate Bill 1142, authored by Standridge, restricts books “where their primary subject is sex or sexual activity.” Standridge’s bill, which a Senate committee

advanced on March 1, would prohibit public school libraries from having or promoting books addressing sex, sexual preference, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity or gender identity. The bill would allow parents and guardians to file complaints and requests about particular books, such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Lawn Boy” and “Red, White and Royal Blue,” to have them removed. Michael Robertson, PFLAG Norman chapter president, said bills like these don’t surprise him, as many bills in Oklahoma currently attack people of color and the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Robertson said all these bills do is further isolate these marginalized groups. The bill did not receive a Senate floor hearing, missing the deadline to most likely be heard this session, however, SB 1142 received support and sent a ripple effect for other bills and controversy. SB 1142 received notable support, making it very possible the bill will be heard in the near future. Sen. Blake Stephens (R-Tahlequah) called the bill a slippery slope. In the Senate committee meeting, SB 1142 was not on the agenda, however Standridge pushed for his bill to advance, claiming an emergency existed for the preservation of



Henderson’s decades of teaching and mentoring crossed and broke down boundaries for Oklahoma’s Black community.

public peace, health and safety. During the meeting, Standridge said he was not comfortable having books about masturbation on the shelves. Standridge said one committee member apologized for his use of the word masturbation to the “young ladies in the room” and some of the school children in attendance. He said this further proves his point about restricting these books in schools. Some particular books Standridge mentioned included “Trans Teen Survival Guide,” “The Art of Drag,” “Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities” and “A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns.” “These books are graphic. These books are inappropriate for a Senate Education meeting where even a member that voted on my bill, apologized for me using that word,” Standridge said. “It wasn’t appropriate for a Senate Education meeting where the chairman voted no. It’s inappropriate for sixth grade.” Standridge said he asks people not to use the word “ban” to describe these books because he is not calling for “the burning of books.” “Some parents fear that if their kids read about a person questioning their identity, that it will lead them to question their own identity,” Robertson said. “I would just ask that these parents consider that these books educate and provide understanding, otherwise, we’ll just continue to fear what we don’t understand.” Standridge said he received numerous complaints from parents regarding books offered in public school libraries, including “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “Gender Queer: A Memoir.” Another book, “The Bluest Eye” by the late Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison, bothered parents of some high school students because of a scene involving rape. Morrison’s novel focuses on a young Black girl growing up in Ohio following the Great Depression. It tackles topics of incest, child molestation and racism, which Standridge believes is not suitable or necessary for students to read. Standridge said the book being required in Oklahoma schools is unnecessary, as it is only recommended by the College Board AP Literature and Composition Exam. “The Bluest Eye” has been featured on the exam three times since 1971. Morrison has four books on the recommended reading, all of which have faced banning and restriction legislation. “We have a disconnect between what parents think is appropriate and what schools think is appropriate,” Standridge said. “It’s about guarding your children.” With bills such as Standridge’s in the state, historically marginalized groups fear that not teaching particular books or lessons in the

8 classroom could lead to an increase in bullying and depression. Books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Maus,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “The Every Body Book: The LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids About Sex, Gender, Bodies and Families,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and even “Fahrenheit 451” all face being left out of school curriculums and libraries in the state. If passed, activists and educators believe these bills could have repercussions beyond public school curriculum. “(Children) have no tools, they have no vocabulary to talk about the history and the present day realities connected to those stories,” Hill said. “That’s where the real harm comes because those same individuals, those children, become adults, and they become voters. They have the education that they have. If they haven’t learned different histories, different stories, and actually different ways of understanding … then they only get these really simplistic lessons that are inauthentic.” Books dealing with race, sexuality and gender identity allow for more understanding among students and can allow for students struggling with issues relating to these topics

to feel seen and not alone, Robertson said. Nicole McAfee, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, agreed. “By trying to limit access to knowledge, we are also advancing stigma and shame with policy efforts like this,” McAfee said. “In the last three years, policy efforts that use anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, harm the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people, whether or not they pass. … There’s harm in giving them a platform.” According to a Census Pulse Survey, 2SLGBTQ+ in the state are two times more likely to experience anxiety and depression in comparison to non-2SLGBTQ+ Oklahomans. They were also more likely to report feeling down, depressed or hopeless. One in five transgender youth in Oklahoma attempted suicide in the past year, with many citing bullying and discrimination in schools and work as being major factors. The Trevor Project conducted a survey regarding 2SLGBTQ+ suicide risks in 2021, which found 94 percent of 2SLGBTQ+ youth saying recent politics has negatively impacted their mental health, 42 percent of them

reported considering suicide over the past year, which included more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. “Book censorship has long been a tactic used to try to limit representation and control access to what ideas are available,” McAfee said. “I think even by introducing legislation like this, and treating these attacks as serious possibilities, we’re doing a lot of harm to young kids in their mental health in Oklahoma.” Robertson continued to say that these bills will further harm children in state because it will not stop them from seeking out this material. Instead, it forces them to search for it in “dangerous ways.” “It’s an awkward topic, but we should be teaching them these things the correct way, so they’re not learning them the incorrect way,” Robertson said. McAfee noted other bills, such as House Bill 4013 by Rep. Sherrie Conley (R-Newcastle), which utilizes other tactics in order to label certain material, many of which pertain to topics involving historically marginalized communities, as obscene. HB 4013 intends to expand the definition of


Henderson received the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book in April 2017. The award is given annually for an outstanding body of literary work.



A stack of books at the Norman Public Library.

obscene materials to include any written or artistic material. McAfee said the bill especially hopes to further censor books by using a “child pornography statute” to limit books labeled “obscene” by parents or teachers. “(Legislators) encourage a broader platform for different tactics to be used to try to attack and censor books. And one of the best examples that we saw was in House Bill 4013,” McAfee said. “One of the ways that these are unfortunately effective is by opening sort of the door for there to be legitimate policy

conversations that move into criminalization spaces in an effort to censor and remove representation of 2SLGBTQ+ folks and a lot of other groups from library shelves.” House Bill 4012 and House Bill 4014 were also authored by Conley. HB 4012 would create a rating system, similar to films, for books in schools. The bill also hopes to create a district level community standards review committee for school materials, and it includes provisions to allow parents and guardians to appeal school board decisions on particular books.

HB 4014 wants to allow for parents and guardians to review their child’s library records. Other pieces of legislation hoping to restrict schools include House Bill 3092, authored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Bristow). This bill, which was advanced during a House Common Education Committee meeting, aims to restrict how librarians acquire new materials. This bill would make all public school library materials “reflective of community standards for the population of the library media center.”


Bookshelves in Bizzell Memorial Library.


This bill was advanced with a 10-1 vote and was seen as a much more moderate version of Standridge’s bill. However, community activists say it is virtually the same,only without the direct language to limit books regarding sex and sexual and gender identities. Two other bills moving through the Oklahoma Senate include Senate Bill 1654 and Senate Bill 1823, both authored by Sen. Shane Jett (R-Shawnee). Both of these bills also hope to ban materials regarding sexuality as well. SB 1654 would specifically prohibit schools from carrying books on 2SLGBTQ+ issues or “recreational sexualization.” The bill further bans any books pertaining to any form of non-procreative sex and prohibits schools from having surveys on gender and sexual identities. Rep. Wendi Stearman (R-Collinsville) also authored two bills House Bill 4317 and House Bill 4328, both of which aim to restrict how teachers, administrators and librarians educate students and use materials. HB 4317 could prevent the state board of education from adopting library and literacy materials developed by a national organization. HB 4328 would require schools and teachers to post curriculum materials online, including teacher training materials and lesson plans. This bill was almost copied word-for-word from a piece of model legislation offered by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative non-profit “think tank” focused on domestic policies. In February, The Frontier reported that Oklahoma’s Attorney General John O’Connor announced he was reviewing dozens of books from public school libraries to determine if they violate the state obscenity law. O’Connor quickly retracted his statement, saying the school board and state legislators are addressing some of the books in question. The books O’Connor originally said were under review included books such as “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and “Of Mice and Men.” O’Connor’s office will no longer review the books because many pieces of Oklahoma legislation do target these books in particular. Hill said conversations about race and sex happen every single day in our nation and state, and the bills moving through the state only hurt kids rather than protect them. Robertson and Henderson said banning books and removing them from schools doesn’t solve any issues, especially because kids will continue to seek them out even if they’re no longer in the classroom. “Only thing that you can do is remove all of the books,” Henderson said. “If you took all of the books out of the library that were written by individuals who indeed were gay or lesbian, you would have a very small library.”

It takes about 10 minutes of running to burn off 100 calories. SOONER STAT later when we need more energy, but it can’t do this with What do people mean when they alcohol because the body identifies it as a toxin. Since it can’t store the alcohol, it immediately starts proit. As soon you have that first sip, your body stops say alcohol is “empty calories”? cessing processing fat from the food you ate earlier and focuses



Great question! Health, physique, and fitness are popular topics in today’s world, and hearing that alcohol is “empty calories” raises a lot of people’s eyebrows. So, if you’ve got your eyebrows raised, keep reading... we’ve got a wealth of information for you.

First, let’s define an empty calorie. Empty calories

provide the body with little-to-no nutritional vitamins and minerals that you need to function and have energy. Basically, foods made up of empty calories offer your body no benefits and, when consumed too much or too regularly, cause fat buildup, weight gain, and negative health consequences. Now, let’s get into what all of this really means for people who choose to drink alcohol. Alcoholic drinks are made up of water, pure alcohol (or ethanol), sugar, and carbohydrates. The amount of

vitamins and minerals in an alcoholic beverage is usually around zero. Yep, zero, thus making the calories

on getting rid of the alcohol.

By taking a break from processing the food you ate, your body is storing more fat and missing out on the nutrients in that food. Even when it finishes getting rid of the alcohol, the ability for it to process nutrients does not immediately return to normal. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol damages cells in your digestive system and simultaneously slows down the production of liver enzymes, making your body less capable of processing nutrients. Long-term overuse of alcohol not only results in weight gain but also malnutrition.

If this is all true, why do people only get “beer bellies” and not “beer thighs” or “beer double chins”?

Or why don’t people die from alcohol at 35? Research shows that alcohol has the greatest impact on fat-burning occurring in the stomach. Overconsumption of alcohol stunts the body’s ability to effectively burn fat in the stomach, thus forming a beer belly. As for early death, negative health consequences from alcohol take time and tend to occur for those who drink over the low-risk drinking limits.

in alcohol empty. To put this into perspective, a 16-ounce beer typically has about 182 calories… That’s equal to half a cheeseburger and would take you about 18.2 minutes of running to burn off. At least with the cheeseburger you get protein and some vitamins, the beer offers you none of that, yet all the calories. One beer per day, adds up to 1,274 empty calories per week that your body must deal with–or 127.4 minutes worth of running.

LowRisk Levels

Additionally, our bodies are unable to process alcohol efficiently. Why? The body typically stores any calories that aren’t immediately needed and breaks them down

Safeguard yourself from beer bellies and malnutrition by keeping tabs on how much you drink and staying low risk. Your body and waistline will thank you for it.

This Red Cup Q&A is written by Charlene Shreder, MPS, ICPS, Chloe Sanders, LCSW, and Mackee Slattery, BSW from OU OUtreach Southwest Prevention Center. Red Cup Q&A is paid for by SAMHSA SPF-PFS. References: https://www.recoveryelevator. com/the-empty-calories-in-alcohol/ https://

Got a question about alcohol? Scan the QR code or email it to






Paired Pandemics: Oklahomans with HIV continue navigating challenges as COVID wanes STORY BY JILLIAN TAYLOR • JILLIAN.G.TAYLOR-2@OU.EDU

In the past two years, the COVID19 pandemic devastated the U.S. with a death toll of about 1 million, leaving behind mothers, fathers, children and friends. Despite the rapid approval of vaccinations, these individuals who were exposed or even contracted the virus were left wondering “why me?” as they navigated loss and recovery. Russell Rooms, a nurse practitioner, said this survivor’s guilt isn’t new or specific to COVID-19 as he enters his fourth year treating individuals who are living with or have recently contracted HIV. While the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, so did the HIV epidemic — a virus that took the lives of millions of people seven years before the first drug was approved by the FDA. Forty years after the virus was recognized by the CDC, Rooms said the survivor’s guilt is still present among older HIV-positive people he treats in Oklahoma. “We have the drugs that we have today standing on the graves of millions of people, a lot of which were gay men,” Rooms said. “When younger people today say ‘Oh I can just take a pill, and I’ll be fine,’ there’s a resentment to that by people who had to live through four-pill regimens that made them sick, and through the deaths of their friends around them and going to funerals every week to people that were a part of their community part of their culture.” Such local pushes have built concerted national efforts to address the ongoing epidemic, as former President Donald Trump took the House speaker’s rostrum during his State of the Union address three years ago and pledged to end the HIV epidemic by 2030, despite raised eyebrows from researchers and expressions of distrust from advocates. The plan sought to target populations with high infection rates to reduce transmissions, as the HIV epidemic persisted with case numbers leveling off in 2013 at an average of 39,000 per year. President Joseph Biden renewed his commitment to confront the HIV/AIDS epidemic “at home and around the world” on World AIDS Day 2021, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted every aspect of the HIV response. It likely increased HIV transmission rates


Russell Rooms during an interview at the Diversity Family Health Clinic.

and negatively impacted treatment, as limited testing services for HIV during the suspension of non-emergent clinical services will result in a backlog of undiagnosed cases. It also encouraged mRNA vaccination research to combat COVID-19, which, as of early March, is being applied to prevent and end HIV through clinical trials for three mRNA HIV vaccines. Despite the advancement of treatment for HIV, Oklahomans like Rooms said at-risk and HIV-positive individuals still exist and require services. To meet this crisis, Oklahomans are using education, affirming care and destigmatization to help the — as of 2019, the most recent year for which data is available — 6,351 people living with HIV in the state as they meet the unique challenges of a high rural burden and uncomprehensive, abstinence-based sex education. ‘No longer a death sentence’ Michelle Lewis has known some of her HIV-positive patients for 20 years. Lewis, now a clinical associate professor with the OU College of Medicine, was once a College of Pharmacy student who spent time in the OUHSC Infectious

Diseases Institute. The campus began caring for individuals living with HIV in October 1996 through Ryan White HIV/ AIDS Program funding, which helps low-income people with HIV. The clinic’s inception began with fewer than 400 patients and came around the time medical professionals were treating HIV-positive people with a three-drug regimen of saquinavir, zalcitabine and zidovudine, Lewis said. The regimen resulted in complicated, hourslong consultations, where Lewis and her patients would map out their days to ensure they took the right medicine at the right time. Patients would take medications anywhere from three to six times per day. Now, Lewis said the institute serves about 2,000 people living with HIV and has pared the consultation process down to just 10 minutes with single-tablet, once-a-day treatment regimens that can be maintained during a set time of the day with little to no side effects. By decreasing a patient’s viral load — the amount of virus that circulates the bloodstream — to 200 copies per milliliter of blood, HIV becomes undetectable and unlikely to be transmissible by a patient.

15 What was once a death sentence is now a manageable chronic infection that is easier to treat than conditions like diabetes and hypertension, Lewis said. “There’s really not much about having HIV that should limit what you do with your life,” Lewis said. “We have women with HIV that have babies all the time and safely have babies who are not infected with HIV. We have men with HIV who continue to have families with their non-HIV partners. From a work standpoint, there’s really not much that you can’t do.” Prevention services extend to the OU Norman campus, which offers primary care through HIV testing and filling pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) prescriptions in the Goddard Pharmacy. If an HIV-negative individual is exposed, PrEP can reduce their risk of getting HIV from sex by over 90 percent, according to the Oklahoma City County Health Department. PEP is an effective treat-

A sign at the Diversity Family Health Clinic.

ment used to prevent HIV within 72 hours of possible exposure to the virus. Health Education Coordinator Katie Qualls Fay wrote in an email that OU Health Services provides care for HIVpositive patients as it would for other patients with chronic diseases. This sometimes involves monitoring statuses, refilling prescriptions and ordering routine testing. Patients with an HIV diagnosis are referred to a specialist for care and treatment, Fay wrote. Newly diagnosed HIV patients are referred to an infectious disease specialist. OU Health Services has also partnered with the HIV Prevention and Education Co-Op — a cooperative made of community-based organizations in the Oklahoma City metro that can provide testing, counseling, referrals, prescription information and support — since 2019 to provide free HIV testing on campus the week before Valentine’s Day, Fay wrote. This year, they tested 55 peo-

ple and invited the Gender + Equality Center to partner to promote healthy relationships. Fay hesitates to estimate the need at the university level, as not all people in the campus community with HIV may seek care and treatment through OU Health Services. She wrote that the number of patients they see does not accurately represent the number of patients on campus with an HIV diagnosis. In terms of prevention, testing and counseling, Fay wrote that their staff is capable and well-resourced. Currently, she wrote that OU Health Services doesn’t envision using students for peer-to-peer HIV testing or counseling because they have a comprehensive medical staff and laboratory that can test and prescribe. “We believe that our peer health educators are best utilized to educate, refer, promote testing and work to eliminate stigma regarding HIV,” Fay wrote. In Oklahoma, about 220 people from



A room inside the Diversity Family Health Clinic.

13- to 24-years-old are living with HIV, and the age group makes up one-fourth of the 320 documented new HIV diagnoses in 2019, according to AIDSVu, a public resource visualizing HIV surveillance data and other population-based information. Lewis said she has newly diagnosed 18-year-olds in her clinic and newly diagnosed 15-year-olds in her adolescent clinics. Although the virus is becoming increasingly easier to treat, Lewis said the biggest barrier to HIV eradication is found in social stigma and lacking health equity. ‘Breaking stigma and providing personalized care’ Just off North Shartel Avenue sits the tallest building in Midtown Oklahoma City, and Rooms is settled in Suite 606. The entrance to his office is labeled with a “bat cave” door sign, and his walls are


covered with Batman decor, pictures of Disney princes and a calendar of “dragtivists,” or drag queens whose activism goes hand in hand with their performance art. It’s not your typical nurse practitioner office, but Rooms has called it and the surrounding Diversity Family Health Clinic home for two and a half years. The clinic began four years ago in a single room when Rooms was working full time at OU as an advanced practice nurse. He recognized a need in the 2SLGBTQ+ community for healthcare, as individuals, especially those who are trans, experience difficulties accessing providers who are knowledgeable about and accepting of their needs. Rooms spent evenings and weekends when he wasn’t caring for his two sons growing the clinic and covered all its services, including labs, exams and filling prescriptions. He said appointments were full three weeks after the clinic

opened. He ultimately transitioned from taking paid time off to working part time to leaving OU for a full-time position at Diversity Family Health Clinic when it moved to Suite 606. Rooms is now accompanied by three nurse practitioners, and the clinic is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Although the clinic doesn’t do much advertising beyond supporting events like Pride or working through the HIV Prevention and Education Co-Op, he said the clinic typically serves 32 patients a day. “It was just patients who needed the care, and so it just kind of organically grew. … You tell one gay person, and they tell the rest of their friends,” Rooms said. The clinic also began providing PrEP and PEP as nonprofits like Guiding Right Oklahoma and RAIN Oklahoma would get positive tests and experience threemonth wait times to get people appointments with the Infectious Disease Institute. Rooms said HIV treatments are so good now that organizations don’t always need a fellowship in infectious disease to care for patients, but they still partner with the institute and other specialists. Although some no longer view HIV as a medical emergency, Rooms said it is a psychological emergency, which is why the clinic works to see people as quickly as possible. As patients enter with concerns about who they have to tell and how the virus will affect them, Rooms said he and his other employees work to educate them. “I tell my patients and tell everybody else I’d rather have sex with a guy who’s positive and undetectable than I would with somebody who doesn’t know their status because that person could possibly give me HIV. The person who’s undetectable cannot when they know their status, and they’re on treatment and they’re doing good. So, that’s the way we reduce the stigma,” Rooms said. Oklahoma is a difficult environment for stigma, Lewis said. The CDC notes in one of its issue briefs that Southern states bear the highest burden of HIV, accounting for 52 percent of new HIV diagnoses. Cultural factors may play a key role in driving the southern HIV epidemic. The stigmatization of HIV is pervasive in the South, according to the CDC, and often focuses on sexual orientation, substance abuse, poverty and sex work. Stigmas have also been associated with limiting an individual’s willingness to disclose their HIV status and seek care.



While HIV infection rates are disproportionately higher among members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, it is not confined to the 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, according to the Human Rights Campaign. From 2015-19, new infections among young gay and bisexual men dropped 33 percent in the U.S., while Black and Hispanic communities continue to be disproportionately affected. The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13-64 gets tested for HIV at least once as part of routine healthcare. Yet, stigmas that characterize the virus as affecting only certain populations and judgmental peers cause some individuals to avoid testing and treatment. “We have patients who don’t want to come to our clinic for care because our clinic is known as being an HIV clinic. So just coming in the building labels you in some way, and that’s not completely true, as my clinic is actually an infectious diseases clinic, as we see all kinds of infectious diseases. … But the majority of my patients are HIV positive,

and people among the community know that,” Lewis said. “So people don’t want to come get care because of that. They don’t want to come and get care because they’re afraid they’ll see somebody that they know in the waiting room.” Stigma has also been associated with lower or delayed access to care due to perceived discrimination from healthcare providers, according to the CDC. The Diversity Family Health Clinic works to make the 2SLGBTQ+ community feel safe and heard as they seek out services by leaving discrimination and bias at the door. “A person can walk in and they know the receptionist is going to be affirming and is going to be accepting and the medical assistants and everybody they encounter as opposed to … a waiting room full of people that may, when they walk in and they look transgender, are going to give them the stink eye or they’re gonna feel it regardless of what anybody does in that waiting room,” Rooms said. As the case management supervisor for RAIN Oklahoma, Kathy Ackerman said the key to personal care is a coordination of services.

Case managers work to build relationships with people living with HIV and focus on linking them to healthcare, psychosocial and other services. As a management supervisor, Ackerman assigns HIV-positive individuals to case managers, handles referrals for dental and transportation services, ensures billing is working and connects individuals to fresh groceries, all while handling a small personal caseload. RAIN Oklahoma is funded by part B of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which covers core medical and support services for lower-income individuals as the payer of last resort. This means funding can be accessed once all other available public and private funding sources have been exhausted. The nonprofit currently has a caseload of about 80 HIVpositive individuals, Ackerman said. Often, Ackerman said case managers are making contact with clients to ensure they maintain connections to services. She said, however, that her job title often becomes muddled in relationships with clients, as they seek mental support in the relationship. Client retention is maintained by a

18 “personal touch,” Ackerman said. “There was a gentleman that moved in from another country … that said ‘Wow, this is such a personal touch. For the last 20 years, I got my medicine, no problem, but there’s a personal touch here,’ and he said, ‘This is going to take me a second to get used to.’ … There’s a lot of people that need to access mental health resources (and) substance abuse services, but it’s just sometimes the turnover rate,” Ackerman said. “It’s the ‘you’re in and out, in and out. I have X amount of time with you, you got to go. I have X amount of time with you, and you got to go.’ I think that (if) the clients feel there’s not a personal connection, then they drop out.” Individuals can shed self-stigma once they see themselves beyond their diagnosis, and Ackerman said organizations like RAIN Oklahoma are there to help HIV-positive people keep their chins up. ‘Knowledge is power’ Although vaccine trials for mRNA HIV vaccines are underway, Lewis said her enthusiasm is reserved, as it has taken about 25 years to make the strides researchers are taking. In the meantime, Lewis said the best way to combat the crisis is through education. Jill Coleman, the instructional coordinator and prevention educator at the OUHSC, works through the South Central AIDS Education and Training Center, which is a regional branch of a national grant-funded program that works to improve the quality of life of people with or at risk of HIV through the provision of professional education and training. Coleman said there is a specific need among rural providers, as Oklahoma was recently ranked among seven states with the highest rural HIV burden. She said providers have been more open-minded about education, as they recognize the need and expressed wanting to focus on stigma-related training. The real work lies in schools, Coleman said, as, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, school districts are not required to teach sex education but are required to teach about HIV and AIDS by highlighting that “engaging in homosexual activity, promiscuous sexual activity, intravenous drug use, or contact with contaminated blood products is now known to be primarily responsible for contact with the AIDS virus.” Oklahoma sex education finds a foun-

dation in abstinence, Coleman said. When she served as a health educator, school districts would reach out to her for trainings and request she talk about sex only from that perspective. “As far as our state goes, especially rural areas, they think that by giving the information that that’s giving permission to do risky things which, of course, we know, it’s not the case,” Coleman said. “Knowledge is power. We want to give all the information. Make informed decisions.” Rooms said the effects of abstinence-based education in high school carry into college, as students may be exposed to sex, alcohol and drugs. Being educated on how at-risk you are in college is important, Rooms said, as it allows students to make informed decisions and feel comfortable asking their healthcare providers questions. At OU, Fay wrote that the OU Health Promotion team focuses on providing education on topics of sexual health, including HIV and prevention. Sexual education presenters never assume that a student has or hasn’t had previous sex education, and they don’t ask students about the amount or type of sex-ed they received before college. The majority of students who attend

the presentations or visit their events come away with something new and engage positively, she wrote. Rooms, Coleman and Lewis said they hope to grow partnerships at the OU Norman campus in expanding education and services on HIV. The Diversity Family Health Clinic currently partners with the University of Central Oklahoma’s BGLTQ+ Student Center to train its sexual health ambassadors and Rooms said he is interested in training people at OU. And, although there is some separation between the OUHSC and OU Norman campuses, Lewis and Coleman expressed they hope to coordinate with Goddard and its health services to provide further training and education. Ultimately, Lewis said she feels lucky to be in a part of her career where patients have hope in their diagnosis, as the virus is no longer the death sentence it was 40 years ago. Now, she has an opportunity to tell her younger patients that, although it might not be in her lifetime, there will be a day when there is a cure or a way to prevent HIV. “We’ve made substantial advancements in both treatment and prevention in the last 20 years,” Lewis said, “and we will continue to do that.”


Russell Rooms during an interview at the Diversity Family Health Clinic.


























Mikayla Smith during an OU Nightly show.


‘We can do so much more’


OU student, faculty advocate for inclusive weather reporting for deaf, hard-of-hearing communities


While presenting a weather report for OU Nightly, OU meteorology and broadcast journalism senior Mikayla Smith utilized American Sign Language for deaf and hard-of-hearing communities who have been “drastically underserved” in broadcast media. Smith said she has wanted to study meteorology since the second or third grade after learning about the job at a school career day. “I used to be scared of storms, and my dad had taken a couple of classes when he was at Texas Tech and he had been in the Marines before that, and so he had just picked up some stuff,” Smith said. “When I would get scared of storms, he would just kind of talk me through what was happening so that I wouldn’t get scared.” Smith said she began studying ASL in seventh grade partially because she has extended family members who are deaf. She quickly fell in love with the “expressive and great” language and continued in it for the next six years. It was not until her senior year of college while applying for jobs that Smith considered utilizing ASL in her meteorology reporting. She said the idea came from California broadcast meteorologist Vivian Rennie’s presentation for the American Meteorological Society on the use of ASL phrases by broadcast meteorologists to reach deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, specifically for dangerous weather coverage. Rennie’s research, Smith said, focused on the impact of meteorologists learning 25 signs for severe weather event coverage could have, noting the signs could save people in life-ordeath situations. OU IT specialist and OU Nightly Weather adviser Shawn Riley said when Smith brought the idea to him, he was eager to help. “I was only aware of, in terms of accessibility, closed captioning,” Riley said. “I had never in my mind thought of anybody doing a forecast in ASL, and I thought it was a tremendous

Mikayla Smith poses in front of a green screen.

idea.” On Oct. 8, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which updated previous federal communications law by requiring communications services and products such as closed captioning to be accessible to people with disabilities. Even though closed captioning has its benefits, Smith said incorporating ASL into weather reporting makes news and weather presentations more inclusive. “We take it for granted sometimes that we can just interact and get our news off of social media (or) the news, (or) however we go about it because we can hear what everybody else can so that was the goal behind the videos,” Smith said. “Closed captioning can get better but also being able to incorporate ASL because


it is its own language (and) it is not the same as English — and that’s been some of the feedback as well, people saying that I’m not technically doing ASL which in a sense, yes, they are right.” Gary Davis, the director of OU’s ASL program who is deaf, wrote in an email to The Daily that ASL is a language that was “developed by deaf people, for deaf people and is used in its purest form by people who are deaf.” Signed Exact English is a system to communicate ASL in English through signs and fingerspelling. Smith said when she posted the video of her using ASL in meteorology reporting, she received both positive and negative feedback, the latter partly due to her Signed Exact English translation. Although Smith said she was using “broken sign” and signing in English only, she


Mikayla Smith during an OU Nightly show.

wants to continue to improve to better support the ASL community. “I took (ASL) for six years, and I’m still no way fluent,” Smith said. “I still want to actively learn more and get to a point where I am fluent and I feel completely comfortable doing things, but I’m still not even there. … It’s dedication and time and why I think it’s important (is because) every person deserves to be able to have access to the news.” Davis wrote that although he does not have trouble receiving news, the deaf community often feels ignored and underserved when it comes to receiving important weather updates through broadcast news and social media, especially since it has only been 10 years since

Mikayla Smith during an OU Nightly show.


closed captioning was required on video. Although Smith’s use of ASL allows for more inclusivity, Davis expressed some concerns about its use in the industry. “I have to be honest with you about Mikayla’s sign skills being rusty and awkward because she hasn’t (had) experience in our language and culture. … The hearing world will see and want to learn the sign for the job instead of (those in) the deaf community who want to be (a) weather person,” Davis wrote. “That is (the) danger (for those) who don’t have any experience in ASL or culture.” Smith said she received feedback similar to Davis’ concerns, to which she responded that she only wanted to use her reports

to demonstrate how to better serve the deaf community. “I would 100 percent agree and that would be great if we could have people in the corner constantly signing or communicating, but I’m just in college. I do not have the means, (and) I do not have the funds to be able to do all those things,” Smith said. “I’m an advocate, and I want to continue to learn how I can best be an advocate and learn how I can help serve the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and continue to be there and be an ally. That’s been the goal — the whole thing was supposed to be positive and is to show that the deaf and hard-of-hearing community is so drastically underserved.” Smith said she hopes her video brings recognition to these underserved communities and helps inspire other meteorologists and media companies to include them in their coverage. “There’s not a one-fit fix,” Smith said. “There’s so many things, and it’s ever-evolving. It’ll be definitely interesting and hopefully it continues to move in the right direction and the more awareness that we can bring to the fact that we can do so much more (will) hopefully (mean) there’s more change, but I definitely don’t have an answer to how to fix all the problems because there’s a lot of solutions to slowly evolve overtime to get it into a place. Ten years from now, we’ll look back and be glad that we’ve done even more than in the last 10 years than where we’re standing right now.”


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