In a move destined for disgust by future generations, the “Equality State” took a giant step backward last week. Legislative leaders gutted the body’s anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policy, and opened the door to rampant mistreatment of anyone who’s not a heterosexual, cisgendered, white male, all in the name of “religious freedom.”

Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said the Legislative Management Council threw out its updated conduct policy to placate far-right critics and affirm “their right to discriminate” against persons with a sexual orientation or gender identity they don’t approve of.

“That is striking,” Rothfuss said before the council voted 7-6 to replace all specified protected classes — including race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation and gender identity — with the promise to have “civil discussions” in the Legislature.

It is the latter two classes that GOP Rep. and Senator-elect Cheri Steinmetz of Lingle and other religious conservatives specifically targeted for removal. In February the council unanimously added both classes to the policies that cover conduct by the Legislature and its staff.

Too cowardly to stand-up to the religious extremists among them, but recognizing that singling out the LGBTQ crowd probably wouldn’t pass the sniff test, the panel came up with a Machiavellian solution: Remove ALL protected classes from the policy. Embarrassed by the proverbial bathwater, they chose to throw-out the baby and the rest of the family too.

Steinmetz, as the lead advocate for changing the policy, said “additional protection [for LGBTQ residents] is not equal protection, but a special one.”

I am sick and tired of that erroneous claim. All people have the right to not be bullied, discriminated against, harassed, injured or killed. The murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard two decades ago is the most well-known act violence perpetrated on LGBTQ citizens of Wyoming, but it is far from the only one. Protected classes exist for good reason: They are groups of people whom history has demonstrated need protection from habitual, systematic and institutionalized aggression.  

Steinmetz said the issue is “highly controversial.” It is, but only because of people who believe their faith supersedes their neighbors’ right to be themselves.

Steinmetz’s attorney, Herb Doby of Torrington, was incorrect when he maintained in an absurdly authoritative manner that an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity are not in any way classes protected by the federal government.

Sen. John Hastert (D-Green River) pointed out that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers both to be included in the protections against discrimination and harassment based on sex.

Rep. Nathan Winters (R-Thermopolis), who will not be returning to the Legislature after his loss in the GOP primary for state auditor, accused supporters of the anti-discrimination policy of “weaponizing” the Legislature’s rules of conduct especially against “people of faith.”

It never ceases to amaze me when folks trot out that bit of rhetorical sleight of hand with a straight face.

He said leaving the policy intact would damage the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion.

Two others made statements that I couldn’t believe I was hearing. Senator-elect Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) said one’s race and religion are protected classes that would be “diminished” by also including sexual orientation and gender identity.

“These classes are protected because of national discrimination, not occasional discrimination,” Hutchings said. In her view, apparently, discrimination is acceptable if it’s regional and doesn’t happen all the time to people who don’t fit her world view. By that logic, Jim Crow laws, isolated as they were to the South, should have been A-OK.

Meanwhile, Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) complained he was discriminated against when he went after three UW students who presented what he viewed as an anti-gun skit on campus earlier this year. He failed to mention that he also threatened to cut off the English Department’s funding because of the incident, though he is powerless to do so on his own. He also failed to mention that the students and their professor said the senator threatened to set off explosives (Bouchard says fireworks) to see how long it would take campus police to respond.

“I don’t recall any of these people who would support [the policy] coming to my rescue when I was attacked at the university,” Bouchard said, oblivious to the fact that what he experienced — righteous public and political outrage — was a consequence of his boorish behavior, not his identity.  

Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) is a UW professor and legislator who was verbally assaulted last year by members of the public at a legislative committee meeting in Sundance. In order to testify regarding legislation she had to sit next to people who called her “vile” and “disgusting” because of her sexuality.

The chairman told the harassers to keep their comments civil — apparently the new standard — but certainly no legislator in the room rushed to her defense.

Become a supporting member today and NewsMatch will double your donation

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) said one legislator during the 2011 session claimed that all gays are dead by age 40.

“That’s kind of what I think this policy is in place to protect,” Zwonitzer said. “We have members of our institution who are held to a higher standard as elected officials than the average member of the public, who can say whatever they want in a committee meeting.”

The now overturned policy, Zwonitzer said, was intended to spell out how complaints of discrimination are filed and what actions the Management Council can take. Rothfuss said as now adopted, the policy requires that a legislator or staff member be charged with a crime to be disciplined.

Several people gave moving testimony in favor of keeping the policy’s language intact, including a bisexual member of the Air Force stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, a man who is worried about how his transgender grandchild will be treated if she visits Wyoming, and a Laramie man who reminded the council that “you can be Christian and still be LGBTQ.”

But the speaker whose testimony should have changed the minds of legislators who favored the incredibly weakened, vague version of the policy was Rev. Hannah Roberts Villnave of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne.

Before she and her wife moved here, their friends worried if the couple would be safe. Villnave told them not to be concerned, Wyoming was a “live and let live” state. There’s yet another truism negated by contemporary political extremism.

The policy the council approved 10 months ago was in keeping with the practices of other states, reflected contemporary Wyoming and American culture and respected the will of the electorate. In Massachusetts, for example, voters rejected a ballot initiative to overturn an LGBTQ anti-discrimination law 68 percent to 32 percent. That’s about as straight forward a form of democracy as you’ll find in this country.

Yet Wyoming continues to move in the wrong direction.

The reverend said LGBTQ individuals, whether they are citizens, interns, staffers or legislators, must be “unharassed in our interactions with the folks we have elected to represent us.” Now, she is wondering if she and her family should stay in “a place that so despises us.”

In a single statement she addressed the bottom line of the meeting: Her same-sex marriage “does not interfere with anyone’s freedom of religion.” The logic and truth of that statement is so self evident as to be farcical.  

I am shocked and troubled that only one of the council’s eight Republicans — Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) — had the spine to vote with the five Democrats against legally marginalizing Wyoming’s vulnerable and repressed.

The council’s action sends an insulting, uncaring and shameful message to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters: Wyoming doesn’t believe you have the right to love who you love or be who you are.

Many of us don’t agree, and we’ll continue fighting for LGBTQ rights and to pass laws and policies that protect some of our most vulnerable people from all forms of discrimination wherever they occur.

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...

Join the Conversation

8 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. The writer quoting Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan used the word interpretation in place of the word opinion. The original quote is: “you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” National Review, September 4, 2003 The writer’s comment contained mostly opinion and few facts. He advises that not only Scripture but all Christians everywhere in all times agreed that same-sex marriage is immoral. Yet he provides no facts to support either assertion. The fact is that the majority of religions ( Unitarian Universalist, Jewish[reform]Jewish[conservative], United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Lutheran [EICA] and Presbyterian) agreed with and supported the Supreme Court decision on Same -Sex marriage. https://religionnews.com/2018/05/01/same-sex-marriage-has-support-among-most-american-religious-groups-study-shows/
    In 2013 Pope Francis stated: ” If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” http://time.com/3975630/pope-francis-lgbt-issues/
    His statement that “Historic Christian sexual ethics, along with historic Judaism preceding, have always presupposed the binary male/female polarity as the basis of marriage.” While this archaic belief may have been historically true it is certainly no longer true. This belief, as with many other beliefs societies have held in the past that have been supported by religions and religious leaders must go the way of racial discrimination, polygamy, child marriage, and animal sacrifice.
    The opinions of those present at the legislative committee meeting held in Sundance Wyoming in December of 2017, many who were members of the clergy were offensive at the very least, hateful at the most. (1. full of hate: MALICIOUS 2. deserving of or arousing hate Merriam-Webster) Those providing testimony to the committee called testimony by a sitting legislator “discussing and drivel”; same- sex couples were described as despicable and vile. Same-sex marriage was compared to a woman and a dog marrying. Even the Chair person called the testimony “anti-gay” and ” “repulsive”. This is clearly not the language of “advocating”, “upholding”, “teaching and affirming” what the Bible says whether you are willing to call it hate or not. It is language that is meant to arouse hate.
    https://www.wyomingnews.com/news/local_news/gender-language-debate-in-wyoming-legislature-turns-ugly/article_482ba09e-da57-11e7-bfd8-33f443088a44.html
    https://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/wyoming-legislators-address-offensive-comments-personal-attacks/article_90e9451a-2961-5d5d-b83f-5ddad78fa75d.html

    In addition to his religious opinions he also gives a “Pinocchio” to a comment that same- sex marriage “does not interfere with anyone’s freedom of religion” by pointing to a conflict on the Harvard Campus with, once again, ” historic Christian sexual ethics”. ”
    In an ongoing situation at Harvard University, a Christian student-lead group is currently on probation for attempting to hold their own staff in compliance with historic Christian sexual ethics. The university insists that such ethics are an egregious violation of Harvard’s SOGI non-discrimination policy! The student group has been told to eliminate historic Christian sexual ethics from its own leadership requirements or be faced with removal.
    Of course, this is not the whole story or even a clear clarification of the story. Mr. Johnson’s “Pinocchio” seems misplaced in that the facts are somewhat greyer than he presents. All student organizations must show compliance with the university’s nondiscrimination principals; this is not an unusual prerequisite for student groups at any university. These principals apply to groups that accept university funding, space and support. Any group that did not want to follow university guidelines could organize outside the campus. The one year academic probation was in response to the resignation of a bisexual former assistant Bible course leader – the club allegedly asked the woman to step down after they learned she was dating another woman. The Christian club denied that they discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. However they did not respond to questions as to the incident. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/02/22/harvard-places-christian-club-probation/wMpdkbJ0mZMoPkKw2sp7MM/story.html
    An additional statement from the club referred to the requirement of “sexual purity” that was applied “regardless of sexual orientation.” apparently referring to celibacy – a somewhat difficult standard to monitor.
    In an December 16 opinion piece discussing the repeal by lawmakers of anti-discrimination protections in legislative language the editorial stated: ” Wyoming residents have for years grumbled about the sterol-type , which is often perpetuated nationally, that they are bigoted or narrow-minded. Unilateral moves like this by our elected officials only cement that stigma.” Wyoming lawmakers should not be led by the archaic, uniformed opinions of Wyoming’s far right citizens.

    1. Linda:
      Thank you for your response. I do believe, however, you have missed the obvious. Previously I wrote:

      //However, I did used the term HISTORIC CHRISTIAN ETHICS intentionally. You, and anyone else, may rest assured that NO CREED, NO CONFESSION, NO EARLY CHURCH FATHER – EVER affirmed the moral legitimacy nor advocated for same-sex marriage – EVER.//
      and
      //In this case, it is clear and unambiguous: Historic Christian sexual ethics, along with historic Judaism preceding, have always presupposed the binary male/female polarity as the basis of marriage. //

      As I stated. I used the phrase “Historic Christian sexual ethics” intentionally. It implies the LONG and CONSISTENT witness of the church through time, not contemporary musings of liberal Christianity. That being understood by most readers, your contemporary citation of liberal Christianity simply proves my point: outside of liberal Christianity, no witness exists that would affirm the abrogation of historic Christian teaching.

      So my comments carry NO opinion, but simply a claim to fact. All you have to do to disprove this, is to provide the readers an early church father, a historic creed or confession that affirms same-sex marriage. That should be simple enough. The fact is: none exists.

      Second, I’m a bit confused. On the one hand you attack me for simply stating opinions (which claim I correct in my paragraph above), On the other hand, you seem to concede my very point when you state:

      “This belief, as with many other beliefs societies have held in the past that have been supported by religions and religious leaders must go the way of racial discrimination, polygamy, child marriage, and animal sacrifice.”

      You can’t both critique me for simply putting forth opinions (a rather silly claim) and at the same time acknowledge the claim by telling readers such beliefs “must go the way of…” If you want to provide ONE verifiable source that would support SSM, then I’ll be happy to retract my claim to fact. Until you do so, I believe you are the one who is simply putting forth opinions.

      Lastly, my Pinocchio statement remains valid. Your attempt at a critique is simply circular, and therefore fallacious. You can’t critique my statement on the basis of presupposing your own view, which you did when you said:

      ” All student organizations must show compliance with the university’s nondiscrimination principals; this is not an unusual prerequisite for student groups at any university.”

      Here, you’ve missed the entire point. It’s precisely Harvard’s SOGI nondiscriminatory policy that has been leveraged to threaten removal of a student club that holds to historic Christian sexual ethics. Far from disproving my point; it PROVES my point! Therefore, contrary to Drake’s claim that SOGI legislation does not “damage the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion,” the Harvard situation makes it indubitably clear that it does. The group must comply or be shut down. That is infringement pure and simple.

  2. Aside from the very valid points made by Kerry Drake, we in Wyoming have been spending a fair amount of money studying how to diversify and accelerate economic growth in the state. One of the central recommendations has been to provide incentives for young people to want to live here, in particular by promoting protections of all minorities, especially the LGBTQ community of people. Most people are simply not going to invest in building a business in a state that allows or promotes discrimination. Starting a business or moving to a new job is stressful enough without adding in having to live in the dark ages of social policy. We have to either grow up or give up on joining the world of economic progress. Aside from that economic imperative, a religion that has hate as a basic tenet is no religion at all, and is certainly not Christian. Religious freedom is a total false flag.

    1. Linda, I appreciate your engagement, but I’ll leave the economic argument to others; it is not my area of focus. However, I do wish to respond to your statement:

      “…a religion that has hate as a basic tenet is no religion at all, and is certainly not Christian.”

      First, HATE is a pejorative term. I did not use the word, nor would I. Let’s be clear – this is your word of choice. And it seems to imply that You would ASCRIBE such to anyone who would advocate, uphold, teach, and affirm what the Bible says with regard to same-sex sex.

      Second, I do not wish to engage in a debate here on “interpreting” Scripture. I’m sure we would not agree. However, I did used the term HISTORIC CHRISTIAN ETHICS intentionally. You, and anyone else, may rest assured that NO CREED, NO CONFESSION, NO EARLY CHURCH FATHER – EVER affirmed the moral legitimacy nor advocated for same-sex marriage – EVER. And that is quite a statement, given the fact the church has fought over just about everything under the sun, e.g., the deity of Jesus Christ.

      Thirdly, while you have the right to advocate for any interpretation of Scripture (and I would defend your legal right to do so), you do not have the right to misrepresent the historic Christian position in public discourse. In the words of the late honorable Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You have the right to your own interpretation, but you do not have the right to your own facts.” In this case, it is clear and unambiguous: Historic Christian sexual ethics, along with historic Judaism preceding, have always presupposed the binary male/female polarity as the basis of marriage.

      Lastly, if we are going to be a society that advocates pluralism in the public square, then we must pass by the temptation of labeling others with the venomous language of HATE – SIMPLY because they disagree with us. Others can, and should have the right to disagree with us, without having to be labeled as such.

      Thank you and best wishes.

  3. This is comment number two. I grow weary of the continued misrepresentation of SOGI among the progressive left. Relying on Drake’s quote gleaned from the meeting of the Legislative Management Council, someone said that same sex marriage (by implication SOGI):

    “…does not interfere with anyone’s freedom of religion.”

    Now there’s a Pinocchio line if I’ve ever heard one. In an ongoing situation at Harvard University, a Christian student-lead group is currently on probation for attempting to hold their own staff in compliance with historic Christian sexual ethics. The university insists that such ethics are an egregious violation of Harvard’s SOGI non-discrimination policy! The student group has been told to eliminate historic Christian sexual ethics from its own leadership requirements or be faced with removal. That’s right. Apparently no group is allowed to regulate itself with historic Christian sexual ethics on Harvard’s University campus!

    This “does not interfere” argument is so contrary-to-fact, I wonder how in good conscience anyone can continue to use it in today’s world.

  4. It is attitudes like these expressed by so-called social conservatives, and the actions resultant from them , that give Wyoming an increasingly bad reputation in the rest of the nation as being a backward, regressive , developmentally arrested state.

    And frankly , we deserve it. For now.

  5. Lynn Hutchings’ comment is particularly absurd, especially since the ‘rule-revert’ also weakens racial and religious descrimination protections. There’s a reason our laws specify out and define crimes such as murder (1st deg, 2nd deg., etc), assault, rape, battery, theft, etc. And not just one law saying “nobody is allowed to do crimes”. Holding somebody accountable for any kind of discrimination under a policy that says “discrimination is bad, mmkay” is going to be entirely impossible without any kind of substantive definition’s or guidelines about what discrimination is, can be, looks like, involves, etc. while simultaneously giving a thin veil of protection to goobers like Bouchard who think public outcry over his unprofessional, unethical, and honestly threatening behavior in public towards University of Wyoming students constitutes ‘discrimination’. Some Wyoming legislators just absolutely floor me with their serious lack of basic common sense.

  6. Where to begin? Drake’s postmodern use of language, e.g., the new policy resulted from spinelessness and has the effect of empowering religious zealots to discriminate against LGBTQ persons, was evident throughout, but the clearest example was his claim to fact. Drake claimed Herb Doby, Senator-elect Steinmatz’s attorney, said the following:

    “Steinmetz’s attorney, Herb Doby of Torrington, was incorrect when he maintained in an absurdly authoritative manner that an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity are not in any way classes protected by the federal government.”

    Doby is a lawyer. Lawyers don’t make universalizing statements. He did not say that sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) were not federally protected in “ANY WAY.” What Doby DID SAY, and what he laid out with full and accurate awareness of both state and federal statutes was the following:

    1) SOGI are not protected classes or characteristics under Wyoming Statute or Case Law.
    2) SOGI are not protected classes or characteristics under any statutes passed by congress and binding on the states.
    3) There is no federal case law binding on Wyoming that makes SOGI protected classes or characteristics.

    Mr. Drake can rant all he wants and be as ideological as any in his opinionated articles, but he should be held to a high standard of journalistic ethics concerning the facts. Instead, what we have in this case, is Mr. Drake’s prejudicial listening (granting good intent) bumping up against cold hard facts. I would challenge him to find anything in Doby’s statements above that would corroborate his most unfortunate statement concerning Mr. Doby. He will find nothing, and should retract his inaccuracy.