James Cooper backed by community as he prepares to be sworn in as OKC's first openly gay city councilman
Walking through the heart of downtown Oklahoma City, councilman-elect James Cooper had City Hall in front of him and his community behind him.
Cooper, 37, is set to become the first openly gay city councilperson when he’s sworn into office as the representative of Ward 2 on Tuesday morning.
On Monday evening, Cooper’s staff, friends, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and dozens of members of the Oklahoma City LGBTQ community marched together the four blocks from the corner of Park Avenue and Broadway to the steps of City Hall in celebration of Cooper’s election.
“I stand on the shoulders of giants that came before,” Cooper said. “This city must be for all of us. It was the vision that our founders had and unfortunately we have fallen short.
“But I have faith.”
Growing up on the border of Midwest City and Choctaw, Cooper said there was once a time when he was scared to walk down his neighborhood streets for fear of harassment.
Though he wouldn’t come out as gay until he was 19, Cooper said the other kids in his neighborhood and at school mercilessly teased him for being a half-black kid with hips "that swished" as he walked.
“To them there was something about the way I talked, something about the way I walked,” Cooper said. “They didn't like it.”
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Cooper recalled those memories on Monday to a crowd of more than 100 people as they waived rainbow flags and carried signs of support reading:
“OKC + LGBT IS PROUD.”
Cooper ran on a platform of walkable city streets and better public transportation for Ward 2.
He said he knocked on more than 4,000 doors and met some 2,000 residents of his ward to tell them what his dream for Oklahoma City looked like.
Anna Facci, 29, said Cooper stood for change that was needed in Oklahoma City.
“It’s exciting to see someone representing Oklahoma City who shares my values,” Facci said. “It was overwhelming to see this walk through the heart of Oklahoma City and in the streets. It was empowering and exciting to walk down the street today.”
Mayor Holt introduced Cooper by pointing out the words chiseled into the granite on the face of City Hall say the building is dedicated to the people of Oklahoma City.
“Welcome to YOUR City Hall,” Holt began. “We celebrate those accomplishments and those moments in our city’s history when things just don’t quite feel like they did before but in a very, very good way.
“We celebrate James cause he’s awesome and we love him.”
Cooper, who is also the first African American elected to the council outside of Ward 7, said he understands how far Oklahoma City has come to accepting and embracing members of the LGBTQ community.
He knows the struggles that previous generations went through to help build a safer world and environment for the gay community. But he also knows how far the city and state still has to go.
“We shouldn't be ashamed of who we are,” Cooper said. “But I also don't have my head in the sand. Until all young couples or retired couples can walk down the street on our sidewalks without fear of harassment and without someone screaming out the most awful words to shame them, we still have work to do.”
Before the walk started, Cooper pointed to the building on the southwest corner of the intersection, explaining that in 1938, the site had been home to Bishop’s Restaurant, a 24-hour family restaurant that was known for also being a friendly place for gay people to meet for a drink.
More than 80 years later, Cooper walked down Park Avenue with his head held high, unafraid of what’s to come.
“I won acceptance,” Cooper said. “Door by door and step by step. I am the living testament that progress doesn't happen overnight.
“You've got to work for it.”