HRC Releases New Poll Showing Majority of Oklahomans Want Ryan Walters Removed, as HRC Launches Aggressive “Remove Ryan Walters” Campaign to Protect Oklahoma’s LGBTQ+ Youth from Harassment and Bullying in Schools

by Sam Lau

NEW POLL: Majority of Oklahomans Support State Legislators Impeaching & Removing Walters; nearly twice as many disapprove of Walters’ job performance as approve (55% disapprove versus 29% approve)

360° campaign includes newly created “Walters Watch” at that tracks Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Schools Ryan Walters’ dangerous record; digital ads, on-the-ground activations, social media toolkits, video releases, polling and more in weeks ahead to mobilize Oklahomans and beyond

Walters continues to foster culture of harassment and dehumanization of LGBTQ+ youth following the death of 16-year-old Nex Benedict while driving Oklahoma State Dept. of Education into ground


Today, the Human Rights Campaign launched “Remove Ryan Walters,” a 360° campaign to hold Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters accountable for his failed leadership and dangerous rhetoric and policies that have left Oklahoma’s 2SLGBTQI (two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex+) students feeling unsafe in the state’s schools.

HRC also released new polling from Change Research that found a majority (55%) of likely 2024 Oklahoma voters disapprove of the job Ryan Walters is doing as Oklahoma's Superintendent of Public Instruction, including 42% who strongly disapprove–compared to just 29% of Oklahomans who approve. More than half of those polled (52%) want the state legislature to impeach and remove Walters, and another 11% believe he should be investigated. Walters is especially unpopular among parents/guardians of K-12 public school students: 58% would like to see Watlers impeached and removed, and 75% say he is not a good role model for Oklahoma's students. The survey is of 665 likely general election voters in Oklahoma, 58% of whom identify as Republican. Read the full poll here.

As part of today’s launch, HRC created, a new website dedicated to exposing Walters’ many failures atop Oklahoma’s State Department of Education, two new reports on his record of mismanagement and hateful rhetoric, and a new paid digital ad that will ensure Oklahomans understand how Walters is failing their kids and the state. Already, HRC’s “Remove Walters” petition has collected nearly 50,000 signatures.

As part of the campaign, HRC will be joining many of our Oklahoma partners on the ground in a week of action next week that will focus on the failures of Walters and his counterparts in the Oklahoma legislature. These actions will take place at the Oklahoma Capitol Building, where HRC is activating its members around Freedom Oklahoma’s Lobby Day and People’s Hearing, at the state Department of Education meeting next Thursday, and through support for Rainbow Youth Project and Freedom Oklahoma’s events in honor of Trans Day of Visibility. HRC will also be providing on-the-ground trainings for supporters. In the weeks ahead, HRC will continue to put pressure on Walters through more in-person actions, paid ads and videos, reports, social media campaigns, and more.

Elements of the new campaign include:

The campaign comes in the aftermath of the tragic death of Nex Benedict (he/they), a 16-year-old nonbinary student of Choctaw heritage, who died one day after a brutal assault in a high school bathroom, and after a year of experiencing harassment and bullying at their Owasso, Oklahoma, high school. Nex’s death has been mourned by people across Oklahoma and the country and exposed Walters’ long history of discriminatory and bullying behaviors. It has also brought to light Walters’ tenure of incompetence, scandal, and mismanagement running Oklahoma’s public schools system–with Oklahoma K-12 education currently ranking 49th in the country under his “leadership.”

Ryan Walters is a cruel and self-serving politician who, our polling shows, has lost the trust of Oklahomans. This should come as no surprise–his tenure reeks of anti-LGTBQ+ bullying, harassment and corruption. His record betrays the very essence of education. He has to go.

Working in tandem with our partners on the ground who live through Walters’ dangerous tenure each and every day, HRC will hold Walters accountable for his actions and ensure all Oklahomans know how he is failing them and their children. Oklahomans deserve so much better than Ryan Walters.

Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign, and its “Walters Watch” feature, will serve as a hub for the campaign and expose Walters’ mishandling of the tragedy surrounding Nex Benedict’s death, his past and continued attacks on 2SLGBTQI students and staff in Oklahoma, his appointment of extremists like LibsOfTikTok to state positions, his misappropriation of funds and campaign finance violations, and the overall state of the Oklahoma public school system.

The Remove Walters campaign is the latest step HRC is taking to hold Walters accountable for his failed leadership and secure Justice for Nex:

  • In response to a letter from HRC, the U.S. Department of Education informed HRC’s Kelley Robinson on March 1 that it would open an investigation into Owasso Public Schools and its failure to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment that may have contributed to Nex’s death. HRC has also asked the U.S. Department of Education to open an investigation into Ryan Walters and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

  • Robinson also wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the U.S. Department of Justice to begin an investigation into Nex’s death, and she wrote to Dr. Margaret Coates, superintendent of the Owasso school district in Oklahoma, calling for the superintendent to take advantage of the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools program — the most comprehensive bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ+ and gender-inclusive training and resources — and offering to bring experts to the district immediately.

Last month, HRC also joined with more than 350 national, state, and local organizations in an open letter to Oklahoma legislative leadership urging the immediate removal of Walters and an investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

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