OKLAHOMA CITY – A newly-elected state representative almost kicked out while trying to present a bill.
She says it’s because of how young she looks, but as News 4 soon learned, there may be a much bigger problem.
“I knew there would be sexism at the capitol. I anticipated that. But it just hit me harder than I expected when I experienced it.”
Teacher-turned-state representative, Kelly Albright tells News 4 during her first week of session, she experienced it more than once.
“You know just seeing the difference between a male representative being addressed as ‘representative’ by, you know, just about anyone, and then me right behind them, addressed as ma’am,” Representative Albright told us.
She says she tried to shrug off the encounter, but it kept getting worse.
“I was at an event where there were four new legislators and there was somebody who had their back to me and then another person tried to introduce me to that person and said, have you met Representative Albright and that person turned around and tried to shake this very young male interns hand.”
But something that unfolded on the house floor while Representative Albright was about to give a presentation was when things really took a frustrating turn.
“I was toward the front where the speaker sits kind of, getting my guests together because I was presenting a citation. So, I was trying to reorganize and figure out where we needed to be and one of the sergeants come up to me and said are you an LA? Because, LA is people who aren’t allowed on the floor.”
Mistaken for a legislative assistant, she struggled to find the right words to respond.
“I just stared at him for lack of appropriate words maybe and then my actual assistant was right next to me and she goes no, she is a representative. I’m the assistant and he was like, ‘oh, ha, ha you just look so young. You look like an LA.’ It was just like… okay.. you know.”
House Speaker Charles Mccall declined our request for an on-camera interview but sent us this statement,
“To date, Rep. Albright has not filed a formal or informal complaint regarding this incident to my office. Both my staff and I have visited with her multiple times during the first six weeks of the legislative session and she has not brought this to our attention. However, I certainly expect all members of the House of Representatives and legislative staff to treat others with respect and to be treated respectfully.”
Albright told News 4 she didn’t file a complaint because she didn’t feel further action was necessary.
However, in a lengthy post on Facebook, she did talk about her first week on the job saying in part,
” My fellow female colleagues and i did not come here to be pretty adornments in the landscape of white men. We did not come here to be undermined and underestimated. We came here to be a beacon for the marginalized, to demand an audience for a perspective that has been sorely missing in that building.”
“You find yourself almost on an island because there’s only one or two of you,” Senator George Young told News 4.
Young is feeling Albright’s frustration, in a different but similar way, being one of only two African Americans currently seated in the Oklahoma Senate.
“You got the whole thing of rural and urban. So, even the urban legislators who are not legislators of color, don’t really get the problems that impact some of our communities that look differently.”
Even during his time in the House from 2014-2018, there were only four African Americans.
Now, that number has increased by one, making the overall Black Caucus between the House and Senate the largest in state history, but still only seven.
“People have to vote based on the quality of the candidate not the color of the candidate. I think that is still an issue today.”
The number of women — growing dramatically, with 15 new State Representatives, bringing the total to 23. And four new Senators for a total of nine.
Change is coming slowly.
Which leads to a larger question: how do we work toward making this body more representative, when it comes to gender and race?