The Oklahoma Equality Center provides resources and support for the LBGT community.
On the edge of downtown sits an unassuming building that proudly flies three flags: the tallest, the American flag; second, the Oklahoma state flag; and third, a rainbow flag, representing the pride of Oklahomans for Equality (OkEq).
The Oklahoma Equality Center, 621 E. Fourth St., is home to those who seek equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families. Originally known as Oklahomans for Human Rights and then Tulsa Oklahomans for Human Rights, the organization has served LGBT Oklahomans since 1980. In 1996, OkEq opened its first facility, also the first of its kind in Oklahoma, and by 2005 the group needed a larger space.
That year, OkEq bought its current facility. After one year of renovations, the 18,000-square-foot center opened to the public Jan. 23, 2007. The facility includes an event center, full-service lending library, wellness center, board rooms, child play area, gift shop and other resources.
Why was establishing this center important for OkEq? Two words, President Toby Jenkins says: greater visibility.
“The more people that know us, our neighbors, family, people we work or worship with and develop a friendship with us instead of judging us on a perceived difference, the less they fear that difference,” Jenkins says.
- The Equality Center is named after Dennis R. Neill, who founded Tulsa Oklahomans for Human Rights and was the center’s top benefactor. Neill still volunteers weekly at the center and often can be found manning the phones, helping clean up after events and reaching out to Tulsans in need, Jenkins says.
- The first community center for OkEq was located in Brookside in the early 1980s. It was known as a gay pride center and was housed on a second story in the back of a building. Because of the landlord’s concerns of vandalism, OkEq was not allowed to be identified with signage or flags. The building still stands.
- Members and friends of the LGBT community raised money for the center through the Pyramid Project capital campaign. Renovations were completed during the course of a year with the help of 275 volunteers, who worked more than 7,000 labor hours.
- The Equality Center still retains the same phone number it registered in 1980: (918) 743-4297 (GAYS). The Center receives at least 100 phone calls per day. Tulsans can call to find out more about the facility, upcoming events and resources.
- The Center’s current home was a torpedo manufacturing plant in the 1950s. Originally located in the northwest corner of downtown near where Owen Park is today, the plant was moved because of unfavorable working conditions (bombs exploding while being manufactured).
- OkEq’s home isn’t just for the LGBT community. Dance classes, movie nights, art gallery openings and more are always open to the general public.
- After visiting the Center during the National Preservation Conference in October 2008, preservationists awarded OkEq members with $5,000 for their restoration work and re-purposing of the facility.
Pictured: OkEq President Toby Jenkins, left, with volunteers Michelle Simmons, Tracy Allen, Rick Spring, Daniel Buck and Lucas Green.
Tulsa Pride & Diversity 2009 takes place at Centennial Park June 6. The daylong event features fashion shows, water slides, rock climbing, a parade, fireworks and live music by Eric and the Adams. The event is part of a 10-day celebration including theater productions and an art show, all culminating with a June 30 gala at Cain’s Ballroom. For more information, visit www.okeq.org.