It feels as though we’re in a moment of history in which the rhetoric of, “there are very fine people on both sides,” by the highest political position in the United States, is trickling down at an escalating rate, permitting a sense of acceptance down to even the most innocent level, our children.
In a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League, propaganda from white supremacy groups has increased by 182 percent in the United States with 1,187 cases reported in 2018, compared to 421 in 2017.
This propaganda is reaching children in Cheyenne, such as what happened at the end of March at McCormick Junior High School, in where students were handing out flyers bearing racial and homophobic connotations. This made the issue too close for comfort, causing a lot of mistrust in Laramie County School District 1 officials when they refused to denounce white supremacy.
Due to a public outcry following the events, there has been an ongoing investigation led by LCSD1 Title IX coordinator John Balow into the matter. The investigation is still ongoing, but even without a definite outcome of such investigation, we can still take this moment and recognize that Wyoming has had a problem with racism and homophobia for some time.
It’s now been more than 20 years since the tragic death of Matthew Shepard that gave a brief window into the state of homophobia in Wyoming. At first, the community of Laramie and much of the state came together after this loss, but it faded over time. At this moment our community feels more united, but we must remember that reeling emotions quickly fade. We must continue to show our support for our underrepresented community members.
While these events could easily just be pushed aside with the typical “boys will be boys” rhetoric, we should be evolved enough as a society that our children receive the bare minimum requirements of empathy required to recognize that the words they use have deeper historical roots to the mistreatment of people of color and the LGBT+ community that may be beyond their privileged existence.
In Wyoming, there are no legal protections of the LGBT+ community and there are still no hate crime laws. From the Wyoming Equality website: “Most Wyomingites believe that it’s already illegal to fire someone solely for being gay or transgender. But in Wyoming, it is completely legal to do just that—terminate an employee, even though that person is performing satisfactorily, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”
In February of this year, Cheyenne Republican Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, who also works on the LCCC campus in the office of Academic Affairs, sponsored House Bill 230, which would have updated language in the state’s employment laws to offer recourse for employees and job applicants to lodge complaints with the state if they were discriminated against for their gender identity or sexual orientation, but the bill was killed in the House.
Wyoming Equality’s Sarah Burlingame, who also serves as a representative in the state House, said that support for our community of color and LGBT+ youth is extremely important, and that a good tool to combat homophobia and racism in our community is a movement called, “No hate in our town.”
Burlingame also stated that we must take this a step further in not just Laramie County but statewide and implement better laws such as the one previously mentioned.
We agree with Burlingame on this issue, Wyoming has no real excuse to not give equal protections to our most vulnerable community members.