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Riverton High School

Superintendent Terry Snyder of Fremont County School District 25 said recently that he expects charges to be filed in an alleged hazing incident on a school bus in Natrona County in early January. 

A Riverton radio host and former state GOP operative asked a Fremont County superintendent if his high school was promoting the “destructive lifestyle” of homosexuality, comments that the educator would later call offensive.

John Birbari, who hosts the Morning Buzz on KVOW 1450 AM in Riverton, interviewed Fremont County School District No. 25 Superintendent Terry Snyder on April 25. A recording of the interview obtained by the Star-Tribune begins shortly before the discussion turns to homosexuality.

In the interview, Birbari claimed that “all the facts” point to the destructive nature of homosexuality, which — he said — leads to increased rates of suicide and disease. Snyder pushed back on Birbari’s assertions, calling them dated.

It’s unclear if Birbari has faced any consequences for his comments. The Wind River News Network general manager refused to comment and threatened “litigation” if she was quoted. A Fremont County news blog reported that he was suspended, but the article was later taken down. A second news organization also reported Birbari was suspended. A listener told the Star-Tribune that Birbari has been off of the air since April 26.

After declining to comment, the general manager, Valorie Mayo, said that “everything that was going on is totally sensationalized” and that it was a non-issue.

Birbari — who is a former chairman of the Fremont County Republican Party — asked Snyder about paintings inside Riverton High School. One is a rainbow flag with “LGBTQ+” written over it in white letters, with “love is love” written beneath it, all of which are symbols associated with the gay rights movement. The host said he received an email about the paintings. Snyder said he didn’t know about them.

“I thought this email went to the school board,” Birbari said. “Anyway, do you think that the Riverton High School should be promoting homosexuality?”

Snyder said that the district and its schools had a tolerance for differences, even if not everyone agreed with those differences.

“You know there are certain diverse elements of individuals that are certainly fine,” Birbari said, “but the homosexual lifestyle has been demonstrated to be highly destructive.”

He cited what he called scientific evidence supporting his claim, like that there are higher suicide rates among members of the LGBT community. Several studies have shown that this trend can partially be attributed to a person’s social environment. A May 2011 study in the American Academy of Pediatrics found that “a more supportive social environment was significantly associated with fewer suicide attempts” among the LGBT population.

Birbari also said gay men are more likely to contract diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said gay and bisexual men are at greater risk. But the agency added that “homophobia, stigma and discrimination can negatively influence the health of gay and bisexual men.”

Snyder replied that the district would not discriminate against “those classes” and that to do so would be a civil rights violation. Birbari interjected to say that gay rights were not protected under the Civil Rights Act and to discriminate against them “is not a violation.”

A federal court in New York recently ruled that the act, which doesn’t explicitly mention sexual orientation, still covers members of the LGBT community. Another federal court ruled similarly, while an Alabama court said the act did not cover sexual orientation discrimination.

Birbari told Snyder he was concerned about “the kids because this is a very destructive lifestyle.” He then asked Snyder whether he had known any “homosexuals.” Snyder replied “absolutely.” Birbari said he had, too, and “all but one case have come to very tragic ends.” The outlier, Birbari continued, had “turned his back” on the “lifestyle” and returned to his family.

He told Snyder that he was concerned that there was a “cultural problem in our schools.”

“It’s not just a simple viable alternative,” he said. “All of the facts rail against that idea.”

“John, well, you’ve portrayed your opinions, and I think maybe some dated opinions,” Snyder replied. “I do know individuals that have a different sexual orientation. Hardworking, quality of life. They don’t all die because of AIDS, John — “

“Not now,” Birbari interjected.

“And so to portray that as that, I don’t think that’s an accurate description,” Snyder continued.

“For you to paint them, that they are the evil of society, I don’t believe that’s fair,” he said.

“Did I say that?” Birbari said.

“You came pretty close to it, John.”

“But I didn’t say that.”

Birbari then said that if being gay wasn’t destructive “to individuals, to families and to societies,” then “why does our moral code, the Bible, forbid it?”

Snyder told him that it was the district’s responsibility to educate all students.

“We can’t use our personal beliefs about individuals to determine what education they’re going to get,” he said. “So that’s that. We’re going to continue on.”

The aftermath

In an email sent to district staff after the interview, Snyder said he was “offended by and caught off guard by” Birbari’s statements.

Reached Thursday, Snyder declined to comment beyond saying that he stood by the positions he voiced on air. Multiple messages left for Birbari and station manager Jim McGilvray were not returned.

Snyder declined to say if he’d heard of any punishment. An article on County10, a news blog in Fremont County, said that he was suspended, but Mayo, the general manager, said the story was inaccurate. She refused to comment on any disciplinary action faced by Birbari.

Mayo told WyoFile, an online news organization, that Birbari had been suspended “kind of” indefinitely, and that his views did not reflect the views of the station.

The County10 article is no longer available on the publication’s website. Jason Kintzler, the CEO of Pitch Engine, said the article was accidentally published and that editors had decided to pull it because they didn’t have “enough meat really on the bone yet to do a story.” He said the decision wasn’t motivated by political or public pressure.

A Fremont County resident said Birbari was back on his show the day after the incident and opened it by talking about the Snyder interview. But he has since been off-air, the source said.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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