Wyoming Equality pays my salary. In exchange for a check every two weeks I am tasked with goals like educating the public about LGBT rights, non-discrimination laws and suicide as well as having critical conversations with all stripes of faith leaders.
That is good and honorable work, but lately I’ve been dreaming of a grant that would fund someone to go to every town in Wyoming, from Dubois to Lingle, and tell LGBTQ students:
“You are beautiful. You were born perfect and we are so lucky to have you here. Thank you. Thank you for your resiliency, your queerness, thank you for being your beautiful self in a state that does not always deserve you.” And there’d be money to buy them cocoa and really nice pastries.
That’s the dream.
The reality is LGBTQ students in Wyoming hear mixed messages about their worth and value. They hear politicians claim that Wyoming’s youth are our most precious commodity. And then they watch as their schools are defunded and their parents lose health care. They hear that their safety is paramount and then watch as Wyoming joins a federal Title IX lawsuit that challenges the rights of transgender students to be safe in our schools. And last week they heard Sen. Mike Enzi respond to a sincere question from sophomore Bailee Foster about what he was doing to protect LGBT Wyoming people. He responded that someone who wears a tutu and “gets in fights” “kind of asks for it.”
This is confusing for our students because they know they aren’t “getting in fights” — they are being assaulted. It’s a big difference, and none of us “asks for it.” No one asks to be bullied or assaulted. Period. Not Sissy Goodwin. Not Matthew Shepard.
In a small town in Wyoming right now, a mother is bandaging her child’s face, the same way Trevor O’Brien’s mother did after he was assaulted in Gillette. She is telling her child that it will get better. And she is holding out hope that her child, unlike Trevor, will not see suicide as an option.
Our children aren’t asking for fights. They are asking for fairness. They are asking us to support their humanity, regardless of what they wear. Regardless of who they love.
Enzi has since apologized. That was the right thing to do. He rewrote a public statement to include both an apology and an explicit belief that LGBT Wyomingites should be safe and protected.
Then he called our office to apologize and inquire after our community. He committed to finding the time to hear the stories of transgender students in Wyoming and share a meal. His scheduler followed up with an email within the hour. And finally, on a town hall phone call, he responded to a question from a Jackson caller by acknowledging up front that he had made a mistake and he regretted the harm he had caused.
When I was asked why I thought the senator made the remark in the first place, I responded that a quick look at his voting record (an HRC score of 0) made it clear that he doesn’t know us. If he knew us, I believe with all my heart that he would fight for fairness and our equal protection. I am hoping this meal can bring some good conversation and healing to the table. And I know it isn’t enough. And neither is a staff person driving back roads to bring cocoa and pastries to our LGBTQ youth.
What we really need is you. We need your church, your book club, your medical practice as well as city councils and legislators to say: “We stand with you. You were born perfect. You don’t need to move away from Wyoming to feel safe and protected. We want you here.”
So consider this your invitation, Wyoming. Find a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) club. Find a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). If your school or town doesn’t have one, help start one. Wyoming Equality will help.
Or do something like Patrick and Brian Harrington in Laramie — two straight men who created the Live and Let Tutu event. Last Friday, bars all over the Equality State raised money for GSA clubs by taking Enzi at his word: What happens when a man walks into a Wyoming bar wearing a tutu? Cowboys buy him drinks. Ladies ask him to two-step. That’s the Wyoming way. A little wild, a little queer and always neighborly. Join us, because my God do we need you.