OKLAHOMA CITY —The nation’s first nonbinary state lawmaker said they feel singled out by Oklahoma’s Republican leadership after being told Thursday that their clothing choice wasn’t appropriate and that lawmakers could be asked to vote on their wardrobe selection if they didn’t change.
State Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, who is also the state’s first Muslim lawmaker, said Republican lawmakers passed along the message that if Turner wanted their vote to be counted, they needed to wear a different outfit because it didn’t meet the House’s “appropriate professional business attire” requirement.
Turner, who does not identify as exclusively male or female and uses the pronouns "they" and "them," said Republican leaders said if Turner did not change, lawmakers would hold a public House vote on whether the clothing choice was appropriate.
Turner came to work at the state Capitol wearing a grey sweatshirt with the words: “Protect American families, end the incarceration crisis" and said the outfit, which also contained a white turtleneck, slacks and “sensible shoes,” was considered business professional at their last job.
House rules state that “Members shall wear appropriate professional business attire; male members shall wear suit coats, slacks and ties. No member shall wear jeans, denim pants, or non-religious head coverings or hats in the House Chamber while the House is in session.”
“I don’t know what they singled me out for," Turner said. "I do know that apparently they watch me more than anybody else, which impedes them from being able to do their work, apparently because there are other folks who didn’t have suit coats on.”
Turner blamed the 12 votes missed Thursday on having to deal with issues of what to wear.
“I am always within the dress code as it pertains to me,” Turner said. “And anything that I don’t adhere to isn’t written in the dress code. I asked them to define what business professional was.”
In a statement, Dustin Roberts, R-Durant, the deputy Floor leader, said: “Rule 4.4 requires members to wear ‘professional dress.’ Rep. Turner came to session wearing a sweatshirt. Instead of having a vote on the Floor as to whether that was ‘professional dress,’ Rep. Turner decided to put on a jacket. No voting privileges were revoked.”
Republican House officials said Turner was not singled out, and that at least half a dozen Republican lawmakers have also been advised they’ve been out of compliance with the dress code this year alone.
But Turner said it’s not the first time comments have been made about their clothing.
After a snowstorm, Turner said they were criticized after wearing overalls as they “trudged” through the snow to get to the Capitol. A couple of weeks ago, they also wore suits, slacks and statement T-shirts. Turner said it was clear other lawmakers didn’t like that, either.
“Apparently they have been watching and documenting what I’ve been wearing since I got here is what it feels like,” they said.
Turner claimed House rules are being enforced unequally. The use of tobacco products, including dip and snuff, is also prohibited, but representatives dip in the Chamber and nobody says anything about that, they said. Food and drink also are prohibited, but dozens of lawmakers are allowed to consume that, too, Turner said. Some lawmakers are also allowed to not wear suit coats when voting.
Turner, who is one of 19 Democrats, said wearing a suit coat does not make lawmakers any better at their job, yet Republicans are trying “to flex some kind of political muscle to say you have to wear a suit coat, or we’re going to cap your voice in a place where they outnumber us roughly five to every one Democrat.”
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said Republican leaders contacted her Thursday after they objected that Turner's sweatshirt wasn’t “professional business attire.”
Virgin said the problem is that the language means different things to different people.
“My recommendation to Rep. Turner was that they just put a jacket on for now, and we’ll work on figuring out that language in the future,” Virgin said.
She said it’s interesting though that Turner proposed an amendment to House rules earlier this year to try to further define professional business attire.
It was shot down on party lines.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.