Oklahoma small town’s first out gay mayor resigns after being targeted with homophobia and harassment

“Unfortunately, these malicious, bad-faith attacks are escalating and I no longer feel safe to serve in my capacity as mayor”

The first out gay mayor of an Oklahoma small town tendered his resignation this week following what he alleged were violent threats against him.  

Adam Graham, who was elected mayor of The Village in May after serving as a councilman and vice-mayor for five years, stepped down in a July 18 letter to City Manager Bruce Stone. Citing harassment and safety concerns, he alleged that he has been “followed home from meetings, threatened while walking my dog, harassed at Starbucks and have had my tires slashed” by unnamed residents of the Oklahoma City suburb over the past month.

“It’s been an honour to serve and it’s been my great privilege to break boundaries as The Village’s youngest and first openly gay elected official,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, certain elements of the population have recently become emboldened to pursue threats and attacks bordering on violence.”

In a statement, Graham also told the LGBTQ2S+ media watchdog group GLAAD that he was called slurs and had coffee thrown on him.

The attacks, Graham said, stemmed from an altercation two months ago with police officers from Nichols Hills, a city also located in Oklahoma County. According to NBC News, bodycam footage from law enforcement officials shows a heated exchange in which Graham tells patrolmen from the neighbouring municipality that they can’t pull over cars in his town during a traffic stop within The Village’s city limits.

Following backlash from the incident, Graham told GLAAD that it no longer was safe to “shop, drive or walk the dog in the community I was elected to serve.”

“I will never understand why some officials are more concerned with representing the interests of Nichols Hills than the interests of their constituents,” he added in the public resignation letter. “Unfortunately, these malicious, bad-faith attacks are escalating and I no longer feel safe to serve in my capacity as mayor.”

Graham’s resignation prompted a swift response from LGBTQ2S+ advocacy groups who vocalized their support for him amid the ongoing public harassment.

“No elected leader should ever fear for their physical safety, yet the threats are growing for LGBTQ2S+ people, people of colour and other marginalized people—and the consequences for our democracy are enormous.”

 

“Bigoted leaders across the country are stoking the flames of anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate that have cascading—and dangerous—consequences for LGBTQ2S+ elected officials who are on the front lines defending our rights and freedoms,” said Elliot Imse, executive director of LGBTQ Victory Institute, in a public statement. “We are devastated and angry that Mayor Graham faced harassment and physical threats to the point he will no longer serve in public office.” 

“No elected leader should ever fear for their physical safety, yet the threats are growing for LGBTQ2S+ people, people of colour and other marginalized people—and the consequences for our democracy are enormous,” Imse added.

The incident comes at a time when LGBTQ2S+ Americans say they are experiencing increased harassment: Seven in 10 LGBTQ2S+ people report facing regular discrimination over the past two years, according to a June survey from GLAAD. This is thanks, in part, to the record level of bills targeting queer and trans people across the U.S., 15 of which were filed this year in Oklahoma, according to the advocacy group Freedom for All Americans. They include bathroom bans and anti-trans sports bills.

Without Graham in office, there will be fewer out elected officials to fight back against legislation seeking to discriminate against the community. According to the Victory Institute, there are currently only six openly LGBTQ2S+ office holders in Oklahoma—one of whom includes Mauree Turner, the first non-binary state lawmaker in U.S. history.

One of Graham’s goals as mayor was to ban conversion therapy in his city, but that dream has been fulfilled. Nonetheless, he said that he remains grateful for the opportunity to serve his community.

Graham wrote in his letter, “I look forward to remaining active in The Village as a private citizen and will work to make sure the best possible people are elected to serve in city government.”

Ursula Muñoz-Schaefer

Ursula Muñoz S. (she/her) is a freelance writer and reporter based in Puerto Rico. She speaks English, Spanish and German and has previously written for news outlets in South Florida and West Texas. Her work has been recognized by Florida's Society of Professional Journalists.

Keep Reading

What does the BC Conservative Party’s rise mean for queer and trans people?

An openly queer MLA just crossed the floor to join the formerly fringe party, while other Conservative candidates face scrutiny for anti-LGBTQ2S+ views
A teacher sitting on a desk in an otherwise empty classroom. Around her, in a border, is an image of a protester yelling into a megaphone under a blue filter.

Canadian teachers face harassment in wake of ‘parental rights’ policies

Less support and more targeting is taking a toll on educators’ mental health
The Justice Dept. building in D.C., with hands carrying trans flags above it.

Right-wing assaults on trans rights aren’t stopping. Title IX could be a weapon against them

ANALYSIS: Protection from discrimination on the basis of sex can and should be used to protect kids like Nex Benedict 
People attend a candlelight vigil for 16-year-old Nex Benedict on February 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

‘What if I’m next?’ Canadian trans youth see Nex Benedict’s death as a warning

Young people say adults, schools and politicians are failing them