Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) sits in the Senate chamber. The senator is accused of making inappropriate remarks to high school students in a conversation about a bill to prevent workplace discrimination against LGBTQ residents. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement issued by Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 12. —Ed.

Students from Cheyenne’s Central High School approached their senator, Republican Lynn Hutchings, because they wanted to lobby for protections against job discrimination based on sexual orientation.

They were confounded when Hutchings seemed to want to talk instead only about pedophilia, bestiality and the act of sex itself, three of the students said.

“I felt very angry because this is not the conversation we came to have at the Legislature,” one 17-year-old student told WyoFile. “We came to talk about a bill.”

The students and members of the Gay-Straight Alliance, a high school club, were participating in “Civics Day” at the Legislature as part of a conference of GSA clubs from across the state. In consultation with Liz Edington, the Central High School teacher who sponsors the students’ club, WyoFile has agreed not to name the students because they are minors.

WyoFile interviewed three students separately, one via phone on Friday evening, one via text message on Saturday and a third via phone on Monday. WyoFile confirmed with Edington, who chaperoned the students’ visit, that they were present for the conversation with Hutchings

Hutchings conflated homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality in the Feb. 1 conversation and offered graphic hypotheticals to illustrate her point, according to the students and Edington.

“It was really upsetting to think that she legitimately equates who I am to people who are pedophiles or commit bestiality,” a 15-year-old member of the group told WyoFile.

The LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality filed a complaint with Senate President Drew Perkins (R-Casper) on Feb. 4 that documented the remarks, then distributed the complaint on Feb. 8. The complaint received statewide news coverage over the weekend and was covered by the tabloid the New York Daily News.

In a brief interview in the Senate hallway Monday morning, Hutchings said the story reported over the weekend is not true. Reporters’ negligence had led to her receiving “death threats,” she alleged.

“All weekend long from all over the country people have been calling me,” she said.

“This is vicious,” she said. “It’s life threatening.”

Hutchings declined to interview further about the incident and suggested she would take legal action. “This has gone legal now,” she said.

On Tuesday, Hutchings issued a statement denying that she “compared homosexuality to bestiality or pedophilia.” Instead, she “intended to highlight the vagueness and subjectivity of the term ‘sexual orientation,’” she wrote. Hutchings accused the “individuals demanding an apology” of “racial slurs, character assassination, profanity and threats.”  

Hutchings did not offer an apology to the students in the statement.

Perkins declined to comment on the complaint, saying he couldn’t speak about specifics under legislative policy. In a Monday afternoon statement from Perkins and other Senate leaders, Perkins said the Management Council will be processing the complaint.

“In the coming days, we will continue through the process designed to properly vet and address complaints filed against Members,” the statement read.

On Feb. 4, staff at the Legislative Service Office told Wyoming Equality the Senate president would review the complaint and speak with Hutchings, according to representatives of the advocacy group. When the group followed up on Friday, they were told Perkins had received all the materials and would be responding to them. The group had not heard a response by mid-morning on Monday, they said.

The students had visited the Legislature for Wyoming Equality’s GSA Civics Day, a bi-annual event, according to the advocacy group’s complaint. They went to the Senate lobby to speak about House Bill 230 – Enhancing quality employment law. The bill added sexual orientation and gender identity to race, political affiliation and other classes protected from discrimination in employment practices. House Bill 230 died Feb. 4 when it was not brought up for debate on the House floor before a deadline.

On Feb. 1, Hutchings spoke to a group of students that grew from five people to nine over the course of the conversation in the hallway outside the Senate chamber at the temporary Capitol building, one of the students said. Their ages ranged from 15 to 17, with just one 18-year-old, one of the students interviewed by WyoFile said.

“I initially sent her a note only because she’s my district’s senator,” one student told WyoFile via text message. “I was pretty sure she was against the bill.”

In the Capitol, lobbyists and constituents can send notes into the House and Senate chambers to invite lawmakers out of the chamber to talk. The chambers are closed to the general public.

When Hutchings came out to speak with the students, they explained the bill to the senator. But Hutchings turned the discussion to sexual behavior, they said.

“She then asked if her sexuality was to have sex with all the married men in the room,” the student wrote. “We told her that sexual orientation isn’t about specific people, just the gender of people you’re sexually attracted to.”

WyoFile also reviewed a letter from Edington that accompanied the complaint but has not been made public by Wyoming Equality. In the letter, Edington says the students asked Hutchings to speak with them about the bill.

“Senator Hutchings quickly latched onto the language of sexual orientation,” Edington wrote. “And with animation gestured sweepingly towards the Senate Chambers and, I paraphrase, asked the following question, ‘If my sexual orientation was to have sex with all of the men in there and I had sex with all of the women in there and then they brought their children and I had sex with all of them and then brought their dogs in and I had sex with them, should I be protected for my sexual orientation?’”

The three students also said that was what they heard Hutchings say. She invoked descriptions of pedophilia and beastiality more than once in the conversation, they said.

After those remarks, the students sought to emphasize the difference between sexual orientation and sex to the senator, they said.

“We tried to explain that… sexual orientation is a relationship between two consenting adults,” one student said. “We also tried to say that this is a workplace and that wouldn’t be professional.”

The conversation remained civil throughout but Hutchings didn’t seem to listen to them, two of the students said.

“She always brought the conversation back to sex although we were trying to steer the topic towards equal rights and protections for everyone,” one said.

Hutchings asked how an employer would know their employee’s sexual orientation, the texting student wrote. The students gave examples “such as a woman mentioning her wife,” she wrote. Hutchings then gave a hypothetical example of an employee at a store talking about his sex life to a customer, the student wrote, and implied it would be logical to fire him.

“We told her that would fall under employee misconduct, and that’s not what we meant,” the student wrote. The other student agreed.

“It’s not about the practice of the employee. It’s not about sexual harassment,” she said.

Complaint goes without initial response

When a complaint is made against a lawmaker, it is handled by the leadership of the legislator’s respective chamber, Perkins said. LSO staff investigate the complaint and visit with the complainants.

Then lawmakers talk through the complaint and look at the relevant law and statute. If the chamber chooses to proceed further with the complaint, the Legislature’s Management Council would form a subcommittee to investigate, Perkins said.

“The only way you discipline a legislator is through the body as a whole,” he said.

But, “legislators do have immunity under the speech and debate clause under the [Wyoming] Constitution,” Perkins said.

On Monday at noon, Perkins issued a statement endorsing a diversity of viewpoints, and a “civil exchange of ideas” in the Wyoming Senate. The Senate president is not a foe of LGBTQ protections. He was a cosponsor on HB230.

“The Wyoming Senate is a wonderful institution entrusted with crafting the laws of this state through the informed and civil exchange of ideas,” Perkins wrote. “The Senate is made up of a wide array of Members representing a people as diverse as the Wyoming terrain; a people of varying beliefs, goals and visions for the future. As the Senate President, I am dedicated to maintaining the long tradition of the Senate as an institution where Wyomingites can respectfully express ideas to their citizen Senators and receive the same level of respect in return. I welcome all residents to the Senate and encourage everyone to share their thoughts with us all.”

Hours later, Perkins joined Senate Majority Leader Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) and Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) to issue a second press release.

“Let us be clear, the message from the Wyoming Senate is this — all Wyoming citizens are welcome here,” the second release said. “We want to hear from you. We need to hear from you.” The Senate leaders are taking “the concerns raised on behalf of these students very seriously,” they wrote. “Absolutely no one should be made to feel dismissed, disrespected or degraded.”

Meanwhile, the Wyoming Democratic Party called on Hutchings to resign. “Her remarks were not appropriate for any audience, but that she said this to children is especially revolting,” party Chair Joe Barbuto said.  

The three students and their teacher said they hoped for a strong response from their elected leaders.

“Students often feel like their voices are dismissed because of their age,” said Edington. In this case, “this is kind of compounded by the fact that many of them are either allies or members of the LGBTQAI+ community,” she said. “I would hope that our state leadership listens to their voices and replies with compassion and thoughtfulness and would even consider inviting a conversation with these kids.”

In a long day spent pushing lawmakers to vote for a bill that many opposed, as did the Wyoming Republican Party, the interaction with Hutchings was the only negative moment, one of the students said.

“We did have other civil disagreements with other legislators,” she said.

But, “we were able to have civil discourse and it was a good way for us to interact with our legislators, even though we didn’t agree with them on everything.”

Though the bill ultimately died, the student “was grateful for the insight and experience into how our government works and the way we make laws,” she said. The student hoped to receive an apology from Hutchings, but didn’t think it would happen, she said.

“I don’t necessarily want Lynn Hutchings to lose her job,” the student said. “It would be beneficial because the way she treated us was not OK, but I don’t want to wish anyone anything bad.”

Another student was firmer. “I don’t think this will happen,” she wrote in a text message, “but I hope that she gets impeached for the inappropriate things she said to children in a professional setting.”

A third student also asked for Hutchings to be held responsible, without specifics. “I just want her to be held accountable in some way,” she said.

The incident comes in a year that the Legislature’s leadership removed protections for lawmakers, legislative staffers and members of the public based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with all other protected classes, from its internal discrimination and harassment policies.

In Wyoming Equality’s complaint, the group pointed to statistics suggesting LGBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues in high school. Studies have found LGBTQ youth are five times as likely to contemplate suicide as straight youth, the letter said. GSA clubs in fact exist in part to combat that trend, the letter said.

“We are deeply concerned about the lasting damage Hutchings has inflicted on the GSA students in her district and the reputation she has established for the Wyoming State Legislature,” the group wrote.

This story was updated throughout the day on Monday, Feb. 11. —Ed.

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. I’ve heard her spew her bigoted religious views before when testifying about the marriage equality bill a few years back. The things she said then were just as ignorant and inappropriate as her words to these students.
    In this country we have freedom of speech and religion. We also have separation of church and state…even in Wyoming. Does she believe that represents all the people in her district? Her religious views clearly have no place in politics. Time for the people of her district to vote her out.

  2. This is brave: young people engaging in democracy with people who have the authority and power to impact their lives and safety. I admire the spirit and direct conversation these young people engaged in with Senator Hutchings, even with a response in behavior that threatened them, in the institutions of state power, no less. To the young voices who spoke out and continued to point out your thoughts on a bill, even with bigoted remarks, you are supported. Also of note, it is not out of “respect” necessarily that an elected official meets with constituents who take the time to come speak with them, it is a job, should be part of a job. Senator Hutchings responded: “It is unfortunate, but I now recognize, that my attempts at meaningful dialogue on this specific issue did not come across as I intended. I believe I treated these students kindly. I want to make it clear that my conversation was not intended to demean these students.” It’s good to recognize that there was a gap in your intention and the reception. A gap between your beliefs and the impact – the students spoke to a reporter saying so, at great personal risk. To Senator Hutchings who has refused, even now, to take responsibility for the impact of your words and behavior on your constituents: if you feel bad because someone has identified your behavior as being harmful, it does not make you a victim. It means meaningful dialogue is actually ever more important.

  3. It is no longer a surprise when supporters of principles that made our nation great find themselves on trial and found guilty by the media well ahead of learning facts. Wyoming citizens are good people with a caring heart for those in need. Who wouldn’t band together in compassionate response against the wrongdoer? But shame on me if I only react to newsprint.

    Senator Lynn Hutchings is also a person with a caring and loving heart. I know her very well for her commitment to God, family and country. She has no hatred for anyone, I can promise. .

    I appreciate the good people of this legislature, no matter your role. We understand your sacrifice. We pray for you. Thank you and may God bless you for what you do.

  4. Right or wrong, I would like to thank Mr. Graham for not distorting the article one direction or the other, but writing about the facts as best he can. Unlike KGWN and the Wyoming Tribune in Cheyenne, I appreciate the non-biased reporting on difficult issues – and I can say that even when I may have a different opinion. If you want to see the bias, read the WTE article earlier this week and compare it to the article by Mr. Graham.

    Thank you

  5. This article is unfair to Senator Hutchings. She did NOT compare gay people to pedophiles.

    Don’t let Wyoming Equality discourage you, Lynn!

  6. Politics is a tough business. These teens were lobbying on a bill of a sexual nature. If the teenagers are too tender of an age to be lobbying, then the people who encouraged them to lobby are at fault. Wyoming Equality knows better than to say Senator Hutchings was comparing. Everyone knows she was giving an example. Disagreement is not currently against the law.

    1. “Everyone knows she was giving an example.” Thanks Jan. Disagreement is not against the law, but pedophilia is.
      It is a false narrative: Senator Lynn Hutchings has used the same “example” over the similar issue of Domestic Marriage. It was a COMPARISON and a very disgusting one, but not unheard of from those who believe that they are the arbitrators of their religious texts. Let’s dissect her statements.
      The clear difference between having sex with all the legislators, then dogs, animals, kids, and people of the same sex is a single word… CONSENT. Not only is Lynn using a really disgusting COMPARISON, she chose a terrible example. She would most likely argue that legislators participating in sexual acts with children and dogs within the halls of our legislature should be removed from office, incarcerated, and entered into the Registered Sex Offender (RSO) database. From her own comparison, a homosexual consensual relationship would deserve the same outcome. Consenting adults can have consenting sex. Children and dogs cannot.

      Once upon a time, America understood that the Bible and its ambiguous interpretations should not be present in the halls of our legislative bodies. This no longer seems to be the case. I very well understand what the Framers of the Constitution meant by the First Amendment. It absolutely and unequivocally means we should have Freedom from Religion. Raised as a Baptist, I recognize and call out this interpretation of doctrine. Constitutionally, I realize that Sen. Lynn Hutchings should be handled by her party and constituents. Rest assured, I will consider anyone living in her District and registered as Republican an accessory to her bigotry. If there is a lesson to be learned, THEY should be the ones to vote her out.

      We, the decent people of Wyoming, should call for the removal of religion from legislation. We need to continue to fight, claw, and scratch for the Freedoms promised by Our Founding Documents – The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.

    2. 1.) The bill was not “of a sexual nature”. It was about workplace discrimination. The conversation was ‘of a sexual nature’ only because Senator Hutchings made it such by going out of her way to describe herself having sex with other legislators, children, and dogs. It was off-topic, gross, and creepy. Her ‘examples’ were an apparent attempt to make a ‘slippery slope’ argument that the bill, by referring to ‘sexual orientation’ would somehow also protect individuals who engage in pedophilia and bestiality (which it wouldn’t), effectively lumping homosexuality into the same category as pedophilia and bestiality (which they aren’t). I can’t for the life of me figure out why she couldn’t have just said that she thought the law was too vague and might have unintended consequences. There was zero reason to take the conversation where she took it.

      2.) Inappropriate behavior by a state legislator toward high school students is the fault of the state legislator. Not the high school students who interacted with the legislator (In the halls of the legislature, mind-you), nor is it the fault of anybody who encouraged those students to interact with their legislators about political issues, unless of course, it ought to just be assumed that all legislators are total creeps by their very nature, and interacting with them should always be done at your own risk. In any case though, these same students interacted with multiple legislators that same day and discussed the same topic. Lynn Hutchings is not the only Wyoming legislator who opposed the bill who talked with these students about it, but she IS the only Wyoming legislator that caused a problem by behaving inappropriately. Others were able to disagree with these students without being creepy and inappropriate. Why couldn’t she?

      3.) Lynn Hutchings is not being accused of a crime. She is being accused of acting inappropriately toward a group of Wyoming high school students in her official capacity as a legislator in the halls of the legislature. The Legislature has a formal process, the authority to initiate it and act accordingly to that process to address misconduct by its members. I hope they do, Further, these students, Wyoming Equality and the press have every right to publicize Senator Hutchings’ behavior. If she can’t handle being publicly criticized for the things she does and says as a State legislator in the State legislature, then perhaps holding public office isn’t the job for her because, as you said, “Politics is a tough business.”

  7. How many of the people on here supplying comments have any idea what Senator Hutchings has voted on and has pushed for? She has openly pushed for equal pay and equal rights for others. I suggest these individuals look at this article and seriously ask yourself how legitimate this seems? This is ridiculous. It referencing students texting what was conveyed – my word. You have a group of three students that misunderstood an entire meeting and the state wants a minority elected official to resign? Wow. I agree, Senator Hutchings has NO REASON to resign.

  8. How many of the people on here supplying comments have any idea what Senator Hutchings has voted on and has pushed for? She has openly pushed for equal pay and equal rights for others. I suggest these individuals look at this article and seriously ask yourself how legitimate this seems? This is ridiculous. It referencing students texting what was conveyed – my word. You have a group of three students that misunderstood an entire meeting and the state wants a minority elected official to resign? Wow. I agree, Senator Hutchings has NO REASON to resign.

    1. I do not know this government representative but don’t take children into adult conversations this government representative did nothing wrong it possibly was a setup my opinion and I have no cat in this fight

  9. The Senator is wrong, of course. She is also voicing an opinion on a social/cultural/political issue. Voicing an opinion on that kind of issue can not be misconduct in office and therefore can not support a claim of misconduct no matter how retrograde and ignorant the opinion. The proper censure is to vote her out of office. The real problem is that a large number of her constituents probably agree with her.

  10. It doesn’t matter what you say, someone can and most likely will be offended. If you are a public figure and disagree with any group on a social issue and you are going to be attacked. Before everyone gets on board and attacks Senator Hutchings keep in mind that she did not have to come out of the session and talk to these kids. She did so out of respect for them and their issue. She had a pretty good idea of what their stand and belief would be before hand and she still made herself available to them.
    Reading the articles I see whining and crying because she had a different opinion. I see a twisting of words and meaning of words because she disagreed.
    People I am offended that you are offended.
    Senator Hutchings do not apologize, you have said and done nothing wrong.

    1. Really? If your child was in school, & asked a question about attraction & the teacher started going off about having sex with people & animals & other crap… you wouldn’t be pissed? If that crap happened in school, or at freakin McDonalds, it would be sexual harassment. If she is so ignorant that she doesn’t understand the difference between who you are attracted to, & how many people you’re having sex with, perhaps she should hang up her robe…. ridiculous…

    2. She also didn’t have to act awkwardly and unprofessionally toward High school students and describe herself having sex with other legislators, children, and dogs in order to disagree with their stance on a bill that has nothing to do with any of those bizarre, creepy, fantasy scenarios of hers.