Artemis Langford asked God for an answer.
At the time, she was 14 and living in Lander with her family. They had settled there after moving around the Mountain West, making stops in Montana and Utah. Along the way, Langford was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and for a while that felt like an explanation. All her life, something inside her hadn’t felt right. She struggled making and keeping friends, and she felt discomfort in her body.
“Something wasn’t computing,” Langford said. “Everything internal was not matching what was external.”
Unable to communicate this feeling to others, Langford looked to God. Having grown up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, turning to prayer was second nature.
“Please, tell me who I am,” Langford recalls praying. “Am I really transgender?”
Langford was assigned male at birth. As she grew into a teenager, that gender identity felt increasingly at odds with who she was. But she feared the cost of being herself and worried about rejection from her family and her community. Each day she prayed.
Finally, on a Monday morning in March 2016, Langford got her answer.
She had spent the night before kneeling over her twin bed in the dark, whispering so no one else in the house would hear.
“Just settle the issue once and for all,” she prayed.
Exhausted and scared, she eventually dozed off, hands still clasped. When she woke early the next morning, there was a powerful silence.
The creaky house stood still. There was no bird song, no whoosh of passing cars, no howling wind. Her mind had quieted. She felt at peace.
Langford had her answer.
“It’s OK to be trans,” she recalls thinking. “This is who I am.”
Here and now
Langford is 21 years old now. Her junior year at the University of Wyoming starts next week. She’s Episcopalian and a rising member of the Wyoming Democratic Party. She fancies herself a train buff and enjoys playing board games and kayaking. She’s tall with black hair. She squints her dark eyes when she smiles or laughs, and when she speaks she’s thoughtful about her words.
The last year of her life has been anything but peaceful. After making history last fall as the first openly transgender woman to join a sorority at UW, Langford has been at the center of a right-wing media frenzy. She’s been misgendered, scrutinized via feminine beauty standards and depicted as a sexual predator masquerading as a young woman in order to gain access to the sorority. (Langford does not live at the sorority house, nor will she during the upcoming academic year.)
Some of her Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters have defended her. Others filed a lawsuit in late March, asking a judge to void her membership in the private organization on the premise that she doesn’t fit their definition of a woman. The six plaintiffs, who originally set out to be anonymous in the suit, accuse Langford of “inappropriate and threatening behavior,” such as watching other women and asking personal questions. The plaintiffs also take aim at Langford for being gay, stating that her attraction to women makes her “more threatening.”
Langford denies the allegations of inappropriate behavior.
“The lawsuit against Artemis is horrible, false, and causing harm to Artemis and other trans people,” Rachel Berkness, her attorney, said in a statement to WyoFile. “The personal attacks are reminiscent of every attack against queer and trans people throughout history. One sorority sister even admitted that the worst allegation against Artemis didn’t actually happen, but they’ve never corrected that misstatement before the Court.”
Since news of Langford joining KKG broke last fall, she’s usually avoided speaking to the press. But in that silence, rumors and speculation festered. People with little or no connection speculated about her story, her motivations, her behavior. She became an idea, built from fear and uncertainty and even hatred, distinct from the actual person.
Now, after almost a year of others speaking for and about her, Langford chose to share her story with WyoFile.
This is Artemis Langford.
The lawsuit against Langford and her sorority has drawn the attention of some of the biggest names in conservative media. In May, the plaintiffs and their lead attorney, Cassie Craven, appeared on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle as well as The Megyn Kelly Show.
“You can put lipstick on a pig, that doesn’t make it a lady,” Craven told Kelly, to the laughter of her clients flanking her. Earlier in the program, photos and videos of Langford splashed across the screen while her height, weight and genitals became fodder for discussion.
Caitlyn Jenner — who was widely considered the most famous transgender woman in the world when she came out in 2015 — also appeared on Fox News in May to call Langford “a perverted, sexually deviant male” to an audience of millions.
To some extent, Langford knew what she was getting into by joining a sorority. Back when she first accepted herself as a girl, she understood her very existence would be controversial to some.
“There will always be people that are going to be upset with anything that I do and anywhere I go,” she said.
She knew her decision to join a sorority would elicit maybe one ugly news story. And initially she had tried to get ahead of it.
“There does come a price tag to being a first, and it comes with people in our current political situation that are detractors that do not want that,” Langford told the Branding Iron, UW’s student paper, last October. At the time, she was on the staff. It was her second year on campus, and she was living openly as a trans woman.
“But to those detractors I say that I understand where you’re coming from, but at the end of the day, I wish that they would see me as who I am.
“I am Artemis Langford. I’m from Lander, Wyoming. I went to high school here. I love this state. I love this campus and community. And I just hope that they’d see me as the person I am and not the ideology that they perceive me as.”
The story broke the news of Langford’s historic induction when it published on Oct. 12. It flew under the radar for a few days. Then Cowboy State Daily — a news outlet that has subsequently faced allegations of transphobia and right-wing bias — reached out to Langford for comment.
She declined in light of KKG’s media policy that forbids members from speaking to the press without going through an approval process — something she’d done to speak to the student paper.
Cowboy State Daily published its first of many stories about Langford on Oct. 17, the day before her birthday. Using a photo taken from her Facebook page and quotes from the Branding Iron story, the article made note of Langford being assigned male at birth, but using language now out of line with current journalistic practice.
It also referenced “multiple community members” who allegedly contacted the outlet with concerns about “living situations and facilities usage in the sorority house.”
“These people declined to be identified or comment publicly out of fear for social repercussions,” the report stated. (The Associated Press’ guidelines, long considered the journalistic standard in the U.S., advises material from anonymous sources may be used only if it is information and not opinion or speculation.)
The floodgates opened.
In a matter of hours, Washington Examiner and The Post Millennial published stories about Langford. The National Review ran a story by that Friday in which an unnamed sorority sister of Langford’s was quoted.
Before the month was over, Newsmax aired a segment about Langford.
The national spotlight eclipsed Langford’s wildest expectations of what was to come. Overnight, her everyday life as a small-town college student — from walking across UW’s campus to sitting in class — transformed.
“What if someone comes up to me?” Langford remembers thinking. “Or what if someone tries to harm me?”
Research shows that transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime.
By December, when things had quieted down, the news cycle reignited. Todd Schmidt, a Laramie church leader, placed a banner in UW’s student union on Dec. 2, naming and intentionally misgendering Langford. The sign was removed, and Schmidt eventually had some of his union privileges revoked, but the incident effectively stirred the pot. Conservative lawmakers and the secretary of state weighed in, backing Schmidt.
Once again, Langford found herself in the middle of a news cycle, all while trying to prepare for finals week.
She got the impression that most UW students were either indifferent to the state of affairs or were simply trying to get through the last couple weeks of the semester. From the LGBTQ community on campus, Langford felt solidarity and her larger support network came through to support her, too. Still, there were other moments that made her feel uneasy.
“There’s just the quiet hostility of trying to make you feel like you don’t belong by staring at you, by the whispers or the glares and all that,” Langford said. It brought her back to being bullied as a kid in elementary school.
“It’s like the silent treatment,” she said, “but worse.”
It was one thing for Langford to recognize and accept her gender identity after her message from God. Coming out to others was another. In particular, she worried how her parents would react, both of them being conservative and religious.
“I was very fearful, you know, if they found out or if I told them prematurely or in a way that I couldn’t convey, ‘This is who I am,’ then there would be very bad repercussions,” Langford said. She feared being abandoned or forced to undergo conversion therapy. So she devised a plan.
A high school freshman at this point, she made a list of every person she wanted to come out to and gave herself deadlines. One by one, she checked off names, which included Nate Shoutis, her librarian at Lander Valley High School.
“She went about it very, very deliberately,” Shoutis said.
Shoutis first got to know Langford when he was advisor for the SPEAK club, the school’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance organization. Langford had joined during her freshman year, before she’d come out. After God answered her question, she began to share her chosen name — Artemis — with some members of the group. She’d also picked out “Arty” as both a nickname and bridge between her old name and her new one.
One of the first things Shoutis noticed about Langford was her dedication and willingness to always help. She came to every SPEAK meeting, even sophomore year after the group had shrunk from many of its members graduating.
“Arty was one person who really kind of stayed at the nucleus of it, even when it was struggling,” Shoutis said.
It was clear Langford knew who she was, Shoutis said.
When the library ended up with a bunch of empty boxes from a shipment of new laptops, SPEAK club members stacked them on the auditorium stage ahead of a school assembly. When the time came, Langford busted through the boxes before giving a speech about the club.
“It was just hilarious,” Shoutis said. “Arty was brave. It’s hard to get up in front of the whole student body and do this kind of thing. And she did it in a really fun, kind of out there way.”
Langford continued with her coming out plan through her sophomore year. Little by little, she tested the waters, being herself in the places she knew it was safe to do so. By graduation, she collected her diploma as Artemis.
At home, things didn’t go according to her plan.
About a week before her 16th birthday, Langford’s parents confronted her. They’d gone looking through her laptop after they noticed a change in behavior. She’d been distant, less enthused about going to church.
Her browser history — “how to tell your parents you’re trans” — had given her away. Langford felt ambushed and unprepared to have the conversation.
“When you can’t speak the same language about something, then it’s really hard to understand,” she said.
Her worst fears didn’t materialize. She wasn’t abandoned but she also wasn’t fully accepted. Her relationship with her parents, whom she’d been fairly close with before, changed.
“Not being able to fully be myself at home, not feeling comfortable being at home, that was really hard during those years,” Langford said.
It was hard on her parents’ marriage, too. They’re no longer together. But Langford remains dedicated.
“Family is something you always are working on,” she said. “With my parents, for one in particular, it’s gonna be a long road.”
There and back
Langford’s last months as a high school student were upended by a global pandemic, so she was especially eager for a fresh start and possibility at college. With her sights set on city life, she moved to the West Coast to attend Western Washington University in Bellingham. (The lawsuit erroneously states that Langford attended Eastern Washington University and lived in Bellevue.)
With more than 92,000 people, Bellingham was about three times the size of anywhere Langford had ever lived. It was different, mostly in ways she enjoyed, like the walks she’d take near the ocean. It seemed like a place where she could be herself more completely. But the timing was wrong.
With the pandemic still in full tilt, her classes were online and campus was largely shuttered. She encountered health issues and found herself isolated, bed-ridden and thousands of miles away from her support system. By that spring, she knew she needed to go home.
Despite spending her adolescence dead set on getting out of Dodge, she longed for Wyoming.
“I missed seeing the mountains here and the dry air and the prairie,” Langford said. “I missed that part.”
It didn’t take long after enrolling at UW in fall 2021 to know it was the right choice. Classes were in-person, and she was making friends. While limited to a tight student budget, she was buying and wearing more of the clothes that suited her. It was the college experience she had hoped for.
“I felt like I was at home and I was in a place that I could survive, even, possibly thrive,” Langford said.
She declared as a history major and got involved with student government. That’s where she became friends with Tanner Ewalt. The two bonded over their experiences as young, queer people raised in Wyoming.
“We talk about politics a lot because that’s where we’re both really involved,” Ewalt said. “We also talk about history and music and books.”
When school is in session, the two like to grab lunch and muse about political theory, “like the real boring nerd stuff,” Ewalt said. While he’s the pie-in-the-sky one between the two of them, Ewalt said, Langford is the pragmatist.
They commiserate together, too.
Last spring, Wyoming broke with a 46-year tradition of defeating bills to restrict LGBTQ civil rights. State statute now prohibits transgender girls from competing in middle- and high-school girls sports events (there are only four such student athletes, according to a letter signed by Gov. Mark Gordon). The two texted throughout the session as the bill made its way through the process.
“I do think that kind of moment when things were getting real scary during the last session, that’s when Artemis and I became pretty good friends,” Ewalt said.
The political debate Langford and Ewalt return to again and again is whether to stay and fight for the place they love, or give it up for lost.
“Maybe the people of Wyoming aren’t this hateful. Maybe the problem is just a few people in the statehouse,” Ewalt said. “And then we would talk about all the moments that we’ve had where even the most unexpected people were shockingly supportive. It’s a lot of recalling better times, or half-joking about the worst-case scenario.”
Another news cycle
Langford’s experience in student government is what first spurred her interest in joining a sorority. The students most engaged in UW’s campus community, she noticed, were Greek life members. But really, Langford said, she joined for many of the same reasons anybody else does.
She was drawn to the idea of lifelong connections, academic and professional support, and having a place on campus where she would be accepted for who she is.
“That’s why I wanted to be a part of it,” Langford said.
In March, when some of Langford’s sorority sisters filed the lawsuit, another news cycle ignited. This one was arguably the biggest and most-prolonged one yet, catching the attention of news giants like Fox News and Breitbart.
It’s been a terrifying thing to watch unfold, said Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality, a LGBTQ advocacy group.
She’s known Langford since she was a Lander Valley High School student. Back then, Langford was a page for the Wyoming Legislature while Burlingame represented House District 44.
Burlingame can remember Langford’s last day at the Legislature. It’s a tradition that pages give a short speech that day.
“She’s really so tender about these old, gruff Republican men who were kind to her,” Burlingame said. One she thanked for noticing when she got her hair done, another she complimented for his three-piece suit, made up of a leather vest and wool blazer.
“She wanted to say how much that meant to her, like all these little things,” Burlingame said. “And then she just talked about how she feels about the budget.”
That’s Langford, Burlingame said, softhearted for people and earnest about her interests.
“If all you read is Cowboy State Daily, if all you’ve seen is Breitbart and Fox News, you would think that Artemis Langford is a monster,” Burlingame said.
“It’s been something to see happen in front of me just how that media creates a dangerous mob,” she said. In response, Langford has locked down her social media accounts and purchased pepper spray and a personal alarm system.
WyoFile reached out to Cowboy State Daily’s Clair McFarland, the reporter who has authored most of the outlet’s numerous stories about Langford. The inquiry included specific questions about criticisms and how the outlet makes editorial decisions.
In response, Executive Editor Jimmy Orr sent a four-sentence statement, two of which boasted about the number of clicks the outlet’s headlines regularly receive. The statement did not answer most of WyoFile’s questions other than to take issue with the mainstream journalistic guidance on the terminology to use when discussing transgender people.
“We will continue to use accurate terms like ‘biological male’ and ‘biological female’ rather than Orwellian phrases like ‘assigned male at birth,’” Orr wrote.
Despite the turmoil of the last year, Langford said she wouldn’t do anything differently.
“My only regret is how much pain the lawsuit has caused my sisters caught in between all this and also all the loved ones in my life,” she said.
“I’m never gonna give up on organizations, issues and people that I love,” Langford added. “I’m proud to be a member of my chapter and I don’t think I’ll ever regret being a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.”
Right now, things are quiet again. Classes start soon. Langford is waiting for a judge to make a decision on the lawsuit. Her attorney filed two separate motions in June — one to dismiss Langford from the suit, another to throw the case out altogether.
“The reality is this lawsuit is being used as clickbait so that the plaintiffs’ lawyers can raise money at the expense of a kind and wonderful student in our community,” Langford’s lawyer said. “I hope people look back at this case in the same way they look back at other attacks on members of minority groups in our history — as shameful and not who we are.”
With legal uncertainty hanging over her head, Langford’s ready to return to campus. It’s with a mix of emotions, both optimism and dread. To prepare, she’s been praying a lot. She’s intent on performing well academically in her junior year. She won’t be living in the sorority house, but she’s still a member. Though she doesn’t expect it, she’d like for this school year to be quieter than the last.
“It’s a little bit like Murphy’s law,” she said, meaning the adage that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
“But I have determination that even if that happens, just like everything else, I can get through it,” Langford said. “People around me, I think, will help.”
She’s hoping for more ordinary days than extraordinary ones.
Her perfect day would start without an alarm, she said. Other obligations, like school or work, would also be off the table, making room for a cozy Netflix binge or uninterrupted time with a good book. She’d grab lunch with a friend. It would be warm enough to wear one of her favorite dresses, like the black one with red flowers on it, with her jean jacket.
She’d have something good for dinner before heading to the Laramie rail bridge to gaze at the stars or watch the trains thundering by. She enjoys wondering where the trains are heading, where they’ve come from.
“Then being able to end the day, just being able to thank God for the beautiful day and falling asleep to the sound of rain or something,” she said. “That sounds really nice.”