Troy Stevenson, a prominent LGBT advocate who roams the state Capitol halls during session, said this week he is leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent.
Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, has been a Democrat all of his adult life and worked on several Democratic campaigns, including twice for President Barack Obama.
Because he runs a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group in a Republican state, however, he works closely with GOP lawmakers on the group’s legislative agenda. Some Democrats, Stevenson said, don’t like that he praises Republicans for supporting gay rights and other issues on Freedom Oklahoma’s to-do list.
In a Facebook post, Stevenson said he and others receive abuse from people in the grassroots progressive movement.
“It’s been an ongoing frustration,” said Stevenson, who mailed his independent voter registration on Thursday.
His frustration has been building for some time. Stevenson said he gets comments from grassroots-level Democrats who chide him for having friends in the GOP and working with Republican legislators.
“To have Democratic activists say that I’m betraying the party by being friends with these people is just absurd,” he said. “It shows a lack of understanding of politics or how government works. Until they get their act together, I really just don’t want to be associated with that kind of vitriol.”
Stevenson said he has no quarrel with the Oklahoma Democratic Party or its chair Anna Langthorn. He said he’ll still think of himself as a Democrat.
Langthorn, who was recently elected to lead the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said she is disappointed any time someone leaves the party. Still, she doesn’t fault him for the decision because he’s working in a majority Republican state.
However, she said, the party will keep focusing on the six special elections scheduled for this year.
“I certainly understand his frustration from Democratic activists who have, in times, been unkind. But that is one of those things where that happens on all sides of the aisle,” Langthorn said. “I want Troy to make the choice that’s best for him and his both political and career goals.”
Another issue has been personal attacks against Republicans, from the president down to local officials. Stevenson described it as the same kind of attitude Tea Party members had toward Obama.
“I’ve seen such bigotry coming from Democrats. I’ve seen it from Republicans, as well, of course, but by and large here in Oklahoma I’ve seen vitriol and bigotry coming from Democrats at every level,” Stevenson said. “It’s not the Democratic Party I grew up in.”
Stevenson worked a year and a half and moved to five states during Obama’s first campaign for president. He was asked to return for another four months in the 2012 re-election campaign, and has worked to get local Democrats elected since returning to Oklahoma three years ago.
It’s painful, he said, to consider leaving the party. But the frustration builds when he’s attacked for saying good things about people like Oklahoma House Appropriations Chair Leslie Osborn, a Republican.
“For people to say that makes me somehow less of a Democrat, it almost sounds like as an LGBT activist somebody saying I’m less of a human because I’m gay,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson has also praised Gov. Mary Fallin while hearing sexist and misogynist remarks. In March, he posted that he’d just had a conversation with the governor and called her an ally. The Facebook post drew more than 50 comments; he later replied on his own thread about how disappointed he was with the “hate spewing.”
“The things people say about Gov. Fallin infuriate me,” Stevenson said Thursday. “The fact that people think it’s OK to say these things, it betrays everything it means to be a Democrat or a liberal.”