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Oklahoma City Chamber warns of “severe economic damage” from transgender bathroom bill

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The chambers of commerce from the state's largest cities are warning of devastating consequences, should lawmakers pass a bill that deals with transgender schoolkids.

Senate Bill 1619 would allow children to receive a religious exemption in school, so they wouldn't have to share a bathroom, locker room or bedroom on a school trip with a transgender student.

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and Tulsa Regional Chamber sent lawmakers a letter warning of what could happen, if the bill becomes law.

"We simply can't afford to do it," said Mark VanLandingham, vice president of government relations and policy at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. "We could send a very negative message to the world that we're not open for business if we're closed-minded with how we deal with discrimination issues."

The Chamber doesn't want to see the same fallout North Carolina saw, after its "Bathroom Bill" became law.

In response, performers canceled their concerts and businesses pulled out of the state.

"We think, to reach our peak, we need to be an inclusive state rather than an exclusive state," VanLandingham said. "We now have the benefit of knowing what happens when you pass this type of legislation, and we want to make you aware of what happened in North Carolina."

But, state lawmakers like Sen. Gary Stanislawski (R-Tulsa) said the bill the legislature is considering is much different than North Carolina's law.

"It's unfortunate that the chambers are looking just at an economic impact, whereas we, in the legislature, are looking at the impact on the children," he said. "They're overreacting a little bit. We do not want to harm our retailers, but we do want to protect and listen to Oklahoma's families and those families that want to make sure their child can go to a same-sex facility."

Stanislawski insists the bill is a needed push-back against a federal "guidance" that goes "way too far." He worries teenagers will take advantage of the new guidelines, which he says could violate sincerely-held religious beliefs.

If Oklahoma's bill were identical to North Carolina's, Stanislawski says he would have to take a much closer look at the legislation before supporting it.

Still, the Chamber says any legislation that challenges LGBT rights is harmful to the state.

Lawmakers would be better served, VanLandingham said, focusing on more important matters.

"We think the good thing would be to pay attention to passing the budget right now and stay away from these social issues here at the end of the session," he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman told the Tulsa World it's the media that's to blame for focusing on social issues.

Bingman's only press release in the last ten days concerns the transgender bathroom bill.