Whenever I hear about a group trying to stomp on the rights of transgender people, and succeeding, I think of a trans friend of mine.

I wish everyone, especially the people who insist on discriminating, could meet her. Maybe I’m naïve, but I think if people could hear first-hand the harm their actions inflict on others it’s possible some of them would stop.

That hope holds true especially for the nearly 200 people who recently jammed a board of trustees meeting at Eastern Wyoming Community College. They pulled out every tactic in the playbook — fear-mongering, citing religion and “community values,” and telling outright lies about anti-discrimination laws — to bully the board into abandoning its proposed transgender protection policies.

I know a few transgender people, but there is only one that I have the privilege of calling a good friend. She has shared her life story with me and is one of the most courageous people I have ever met. She endures being openly despised on a daily basis for her “lifestyle” when all she is doing is trying to live her life with her sexual identity. Being a woman is not a choice, or a lifestyle. It is who she is. Why is that so hard for others to accept?

My friend is soft-spoken, but what she says speaks volumes about the respect she has for all other human beings. That respect deserves to be reciprocated. She has an unforgettable smile and incredible sense of humor that is both self-effacing and devastatingly honest, and when she describes her feelings it comes from her heart.

And what she says is deeply troubling on so many levels. She is a devout Christian living in a world where many of those who are the most cruel and disrespectful lay claim to the same faith and beliefs. While shopping at a Christian store that raises money for the homeless, for example, a couple told her she was disgusting and followed her around until she left.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. Far from it. She smiled, turned the other cheek as it were, and told them to have a nice day — not the sentiment many of us would be likely to convey in a similar situation. That’s one of the primary ways she copes with such abusive treatment — she refuses to sink to their level.

She has been beaten up since she was a child, often for using the “wrong” restroom at school. She has been raped as an adult. Transgender people risk their lives doing things others do every day without ever thinking about the possibility of violence.

The Human Rights Campaign reports that in 2017 at least 28 transgender people met violent deaths, the most ever recorded. Through mid-May this year, 10 transgender people have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means.

One of the people who led the charge against the transgender anti-discrimination policy at EWCC is a state legislator who apparently felt comfortable enough to speak on behalf of her constituents. Rep. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle) told the trustees, both verbally and in a written statement that, because the Legislature has already considered making transgender people a protected class, and refused to do so, the board’s proposed policies amounted to a circumvention of state law.

What the trustees were trying to do, she added, was “extra-jurisdictional and unwise,” and “not the proper subject of a mere handful of EWCC trustees acting without the approval of the State Legislature.”

Steinmetz may wake up surprised one day if the U.S. Supreme Court, as many observers expect, rules that transgender people are indeed covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 due to its protection of people because of their sex. That’s one excuse Steinmetz won’t be able to repeat.

Then again, she’s not shied away from misrepresenting state laws that are already on the books to argue that the Legislature is the supreme arbiter of the issue. Several Wyoming cities have policies that prevent discrimination against employees based on gender identity and sexual orientation. A few city councils, most recently Casper’s, have passed similar resolutions. I hope more will follow.

The strongest action yet was taken by Laramie in 2015. It passed an ordinance that carries a potential penalty of up to six months in jail and/or fines up to $750.

Steinmetz also said the proposed policy was “inconsistent with community values,” and as proof bizarrely pulled out the mission statement of the local economic development agency. It wrote that “in Goshen County, old-fashioned values still reign. There’s a strong work ethic and handshake deals still mean something here.”

The legislator also raised the specter of lawsuits against the college if it allows males who identify as female to use the women’s restroom and other facilities. She said matter-of-factly it would “cause an uptick in violations of Wyoming criminal law on campus such as sexual assault and criminal invasion of privacy (voyeurism).”

Yes, the EWCC Bathroom Police obviously needs to gear up for duty. That’s a well-worn not-so-secret weapon to portray transgender people dangerous as perverts.

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Unfortunately, it often works. I once sat spellbound in the gallery of the Wyoming House and listened for an hour to many of our representatives talk about their fear of being cornered by a transgender person trying to use their restroom. Then the chamber immediately killed an anti-discrimination bill that had passed the Senate, supposedly because it would give “special protections” to a group out to harm normal people who are comfortable with their own, socially acceptable sexual identities.

The chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party, Frank Eathorne, opposed the college policy and told WyoFile he was speaking on behalf of his party. I know for a fact that he doesn’t speak for every member. Many Wyoming Republicans are outraged that their party has been hijacked by self-righteous ideologues who insist everyone must subscribe to their value system.

One of the most outrageous, anti-LGBTQ statements I have ever read was shared on Facebook by Vicki Kissack, chairman of the Campbell County Republican Party, and reported by the Casper Star-Tribune. Kissack quoted an article that compared the LGBTQ rights movement to Nazis, and referenced the murder of millions of Jews as an example of what we have to lose if they receive equal treatment.

This mind-poisoning piece stated, “Christians are passively allowing LGBTQ activists to steal the hearts and minds of their children, drive followers of Christ out of business, and threaten pastors with jail time for quoting the Bible.”

“How can you compare the LGBT population to the Nazis … that’s a pretty radical statement and totally out of place,” Gillette resident Hank Pridgeon, who is a gay Republican, told the Star-Tribune. “Come on, it’s 2018. It’s comments like that that are burying the Republican Party.”

This isn’t a political issue, it’s a matter of social justice. Protecting the equal rights of LGBTQ citizens is the civil rights battle of our times.

I firmly believe that LGBTQ people will soon enjoy the full protections of the law in this country — if not complete freedom from discrimination — just as other minorities and disempowered groups do. But it will take much longer than it should in Wyoming if we fail to speak up everytime injustice occurs — whether in a community college boardroom, the halls of the Legislature, or online when someone compares gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people to Nazis.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. It is too bad that Mr. Drake continues his hatred for Wyoming because it is not liberal enough for him. I lived in far northern California, Redding, for forty years until I retired to Cheyenne. When I first came to Cheyenne I was amazed, though I knew of it, with Laramie and Wyoming’s reactions to the Mathew Shepard murder. I could not go anywhere in the state without seeing plays, shows, media articles celebrating his life.
    The reason the Shepard murder caught my attention was because less than a year after Mathew Shepard was murdered, in Redding two brothers murdered Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder because they were a gay couple. It was viewed as a tragedy and then forgotten. While Laramie and Wyoming made sure no one forgot Mathew Shepard the reaction in Redding was the opposite concerning Matson and Mowder.
    Twenty years later I see where Laramie and Wyoming have enacted many gay friendly laws that could be showcased for the rest of the nation. But because every single corner of Wyoming has not embraced the gay lifestyle Mr. Drake calls that a failure.
    What is the result of two cities reaction to gay murders twenty years later? I read right on Casper’s paper about an openly gay athlete from Australia coming to Laramie to attend UW, and how he and other gay athletes are accepted.
    In Redding, Bethel Church of the Supernatural is selling it’s gay conversion courses. A recent book signing at Barnes and Noble by the pastor who teaches these conversion courses had lines waiting to purchase his books. Bethel also has virtually bought Redding and imports “believers” from all over the country. These believers confront any gay people, even in a gay at, to pray for them. And at the Riverfront Playhouse is playing The Laramie Project.
    Mr. Drake needs to open his eyes and realize Wyoming is moving into the future a lot better than other areas are.

  2. Thank you Kerry Drake, and I hope people recall the horrific behavior of Steinmetz when they go to the polls. What kind of empty life must a person live to devote so much time and effort to ugliness and hate?

  3. As you sow, so shall you reap….

    Steinmetz and her ilk are probably unaware that a member of their family is in the same “category” that they deride. When someone THEY love, experiences the same horrific judgment and hateful actions, the fledgling they hatched will come home to roost. We’ve all seen it happen in life. “What goes around, comes around” is a truism because it is true.

    Not everyone subjected to derision and prejudice reacts as positively as the young lady in this article. Over and over, we read of school shootings, church shootings, mall shootings, etc. by people sick of being rejected and downgraded who reach a tipping point and strike back. The Steinmetzs of the world set up these bitter harvests, but they’re not the only ones who reap the destruction. Innocent people are killed when anger at being labeled a loser boils over and scalds all of us. Those who don’t speak out against the “Steinmetz syndrome” are just as guilty for the resulting havoc. I applaud the group which held the public meeting to address, not condemn, the issues this community and actually every community in Wyoming is facing.