Four blocks that run past the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center are primed to tell a unique Tulsa story through a new collective name: Pride Street.
Fourth Street between Elgin and Lansing avenues will be renamed Pride Street — with corresponding signage — during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 1, the first day of annual Tulsa Pride festivities. The city of Tulsa approved the Oklahomans for Equality’s initiative after first declining a proposal for rainbow-colored crosswalks because of federal regulations.
The Equality Center sits at Fourth and Kenosha as an anchor for Tulsa’s LGBTQ story — which Toby Jenkins said is one of support and affirmation despite a negative national stigma perpetuated by state lawmakers.
Jenkins, the Equality Center executive director, envisions a time when perhaps “Pride Street” is mentioned in the same breath as “Cherry Street” or “Brookside.” As downtown burgeons, he anticipates restaurants and retail developing along the four-block stretch will create a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere.
Jenkins offered praise to the city of Tulsa for advancing LGBTQ protections and instilling a sense of safety over the past decade. He said Oklahoma legislators introduce anti-LGBTQ bills that depict a poor and inaccurate view of the state, which Tulsa does its best to shed.
“I feel like our legislators at the Capitol keep suggesting to the U.S. that Oklahoma isn’t going to embrace equality for the LGBTQ population,” Jenkins said. “But Tulsa keeps affirming positive messages that we are welcomed and valued and will be treated equally.”
City spokeswoman Michelle Brooks issued a statement on the roadway renaming.
“The City of Tulsa approved the naming of the street near the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center to commemorate over 35 years of the Tulsa Pride Festival in Tulsa,” Brooks said. “The Equality Center has been a strong advocate and partner committed to an inclusive and diverse Tulsa for all.”
The east-west signage features “Pride St” written in white lettering on a blue backdrop. The north-south signs will be rainbow colors.
Jenkins emphasized the importance of the words and rainbow coloring, especially in the heart of conservative America.
A child riding in the backseat of an SUV on the way to a ballgame. A business person visiting town for a conference. A couple on vacation. Tulsa’s homeless population.
All will know where to find resources and a safe haven when the signs grab their attention.
“That is how we find each other all over the world,” he said.
The East Village Neighborhood Association, of which the Equality Center is a founding member, is enthusiastic for the name change, Jenkins said.
“Boy, the night we shared this with them they were just thrilled,” he said.
The effort began as an attempt to paint crosswalks in the area in rainbow colors.
Jose Vega, Oklahomans for Equality’s program director, applied for and was awarded a $5,000 grant in November by Tulsa’s Young Professionals (TYPros) as part of a community improvement initiative.
However, Vega said city officials in late March turned back the proposal because of concerns about meeting federal standards for crosswalks. Three days later he countered with a proposal for renaming a portion of the street.
Three weeks later the city approved, Vega said.
At $200 per sign, TYPros made an $800 donation, he said. Oklahomans for Equality (OKEQ) will pick up the remaining $400 tab.
“Many of our older LGBTQ generation are very proud and excited about it,” Vega said. “First, they never thought they would have a home of their own (the Equality Center) and now a street of their own.
“And I believe Tulsa will be an example for a lot of cities in this state, being welcoming to the LGBTQ community.”