Wyoming state Sen. Lynn Hutchings denied comparing homosexuality to bestiality or pedophilia but said her comments to LGBTQ youth earlier this month did not come across as intended, according to a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
The Cheyenne Republican issued the statement a day after Wyoming Democrats called for her resignation over a complaint lodged by civil rights group Wyoming Equality.
“It is unfortunate, but I now recognize, that my attempts at meaningful dialogue on this specific issue did not come across as I intended,” Hutchings said in Tuesday’s statement. “I believe I treated these students kindly. I want to make it clear that my conversation was not intended to demean these students. I at no time compared homosexuality with bestiality or pedophilia. That never happened.”
After the statement was released, Wyoming Equality spokesperson Shayna Lonoaea-Alexander reaffirmed the group’s position that Hutchings made the comparison.
“If she is trying to assert that she made a metaphor or analogy, both are comparative, and that is inexcusable.” Lonoaea-Alexander told the Star-Tribune. “No matter what it is, that kind of language is inexcusable around minors and vastly inappropriate.”
According to Wyoming Equality’s complaint, Hutchings asked members of Cheyenne Central’s Gay-Straight Alliance in a Feb. 1 meeting whether sex with dogs or with children could be protected as sexual orientations. After Wyoming Equality publicized its complaint Friday, Hutchings found herself at the center of a growing controversy.
Hutchings said in the statement she has been attacked by “those same individuals demanding an apology, respect and tolerance,” including “racial slurs, character assassination, profanity and threats.” Hutchings, who is African American, did not specify in the statement who the individuals were.
“It is unfortunate that this behavior has arisen as the result of a fabricated and one-sided story,” wrote the first-term senator and former member of the Wyoming House of Representatives.
Lonoaea-Alexander said she would like clarification on whether Hutchings was suggesting that the harassment was coming from the Gay-Straight Alliance members. She said Wyoming Equality condemns any harassment Hutchings has received, regardless of who it came from.
“That’s not what we’re about,” Lonoaea-Alexander said. “We hold up our students. ... We encourage those who are passionate to take a page from the kids’ book.”
She said the members of the Gay-Straight Alliance club have been respectful and civil in their response to the meeting.
Hutchings previously suggested to news site WyoFile that she might pursue legal action, though it was unclear against whom. She declined in-person requests for comment Tuesday.
Her only known public statement on the issue prior to Tuesday was given to KTWO-TV in Casper, which first reported on the story. “No comparison of that nature was made,” she said in that statement. “If the children took my questions of ‘what is sexual orientation?’ and turned it into ‘a comparison,’ that is indeed a lie. I can say nothing further.”
She did not respond to a call or email Friday from the Star-Tribune and declined to comment to reporters Monday in Cheyenne.
The Gay-Straight Alliance members had requested their Feb. 1 meeting with Hutchings to discuss House Bill 230, which would have given workplace protections to members of the LGBTQ community. The bill died after it was not voted on in time.
In her statement, Hutchings said she made “four rhetorical questions” to the students, but she did not explain what the questions were. In Wyoming Equality’s complaint, the group quotes Hutchings alluding to four questions: “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?”
“My questions to them were intended to highlight the vagueness and subjectivity of the term ‘sexual orientation’ and how it can be defined in so many ways,” Hutchings said in the statement.
“I will always guard a person’s ability to freely make choices regarding their lives,” the statement continued. “I respect the rights of everyone to make choices freely. However, with this freedom comes the responsibility to tolerate those with different views and opinions. That is especially true in the legislature, which must be a place where we come together to debate real-life ideas, some we agree with, some we do not. For all of us, including myself, this situation provides a learning opportunity for us to find better ways discuss to these issues in a respectful manner, while also extending grace to one another when we say things inartfully.
“The business community however; should be outraged, as this will only continue to bring negative and unjustified attention to Wyoming as another untruth is spread across the country.”
In response to Hutchings’ comment about “the vagueness and subjectivity” of sexual orientation, Lonoaea-Alexander said, “Over 20 states have sexual orientation and gender identity protection. This isn’t a new term. So when we talk about sexual orientation, it does not include what she thinks it does. It’s not something that is undefinable.”
On Feb. 4, Wyoming Equality filed its complaint against Hutchings with the Senate’s leadership. The letter states the students, some of whom identify as LGBTQ, “were deeply hurt and disturbed that they were compared to acts of bestiality and pedophilia.” Early that week, Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, told the group he would be meeting with Hutchings to discuss the complaint. Wyoming Equality said Tuesday afternoon it has not received any direct communication from Senate leadership since then.
WyoFile reported Monday that it spoke with three of the students, who gave similar accounts to the claims made in the Wyoming Equality complaint.
“It was really upsetting to think that she legitimately equates who I am to people who are pedophiles or commit bestiality,” WyoFile quoted an unnamed 15-year-old student as saying.
In calling for Hutchings’ resignation Monday, Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman Joe Barbuto said her remarks to the students were “indefensible, insensitive, and repugnant.”
Later that day, the Republican leaders of the Senate released their own statement. In it, they said they were taking seriously the concerns raised on behalf of the students.
“In the coming days, we will continue through the process designed to properly vet and address complaints filed against Members,” the statement read. “Both Senator Hutchings and these students deserve fair consideration and respect as we work to address this matter.”
The review of Wyoming Equality’s complaint will be confidential, according to the statement.
In an interview with the Star-Tribune on Tuesday morning — prior to Hutchings’ statement being released — Wyoming GOP chairman Frank Eathorne did not denounce or endorse the substance of the alleged comments Hutchings made last week. However, he said that what Hutchings may have been trying to point out during her discussion with the students, through a number of rhetorical questions, was tied to the reason why the state Republican Party opposed the bill in the first place: that House Bill 230, in eyes of the party, tried to create a protected class for characteristics like sexual assault or gender identity — traits the party considers ill-defined.
“I think that’s what this centers around,” Eathorne said. “What Sen. Hutchings was trying to understand was what was asked during the hearing about that bill – House Bill 230 – during debate, is ‘what is the definition of a sexual orientation?’”
“It’s an adult topic, with two adults being there – one asking the questions and one attempting to answer,” he added. “I think any dialogue is possible, and I don’t know how to get to the point of where it’s defined. I don’t think it’s an individual’s job to define it. I think it’s up to a group bringing these ideas to be debated.”
State Democrats, meanwhile, stuck to their guns, noting in brief comments that elements of Hutchings’ statement matched with what the students had described, according to the complaint.
“She admitted to asking four questions,” said Democratic party spokeswoman Nina Hebert. “The kids say she asked four questions. We should ask what those four questions were.”
Responding to Hutchings’ comments about being attacked with racial slurs, Hebert said Democrats, in an email encouraging party members to contact their representatives, asked “them to stick to the facts and not engage in any negative speech.”