LGBTQ Ordinance Passes Second Reading Despite Increased Opposition

By on July 4, 2018

Andrew Munz and Shayna Lonoaea-Alexander celebrate the non-discrimination ordinance’s second reading outside Town Hall. On Monday, Jackson Town Council voted unanimously to advance the ordinance.

Town Council stayed the course as opponents delivered disparaging remarks

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The second reading of the LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance was a clear win for civil rights advocates. The ordinance requires one more reading before it becomes law, but Jackson Town Council’s unanimous vote to advance it drew a deeper line in the sand as some opponents dished vitriol.

During nearly 90 minutes of public comments on Monday, 19 people spoke in support of the ordinance that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and fine offenders $750 per day.

“I’m one of the people who would be protected by this ordinance and I just wanted to put a face to someone who could possibly benefit from this,” Shelby Read said. “I am not a sexual predator, I am not a monster … I want to live my life unencumbered by hate from community members.”

Read’s plea was juxtaposed by the resistance of 14 opponents, nearly three times the number of critics that spoke at the first reading. Both readings drew people from all corners of Wyoming eager to make their case about the merits or flaws of the ordinance.

Some of the opponents were armed with dehumanizing arguments—they likened LGBTQ people to pedophiles and “sick and evil people.”

Their words had a mobilizing effect on people like Claudia Mauro.

“It’s been a while since I have seen that level of bigotry, that level of ignorance,” Mauro later told Planet Jackson Hole. Mauro, a lesbian, had not planned to testify before the council. But she was compelled after several people raised what she called antiquated and absurd arguments.

Some argued that the ordinance meant to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing and public places would infringe on their religious freedom. Others said the ordinance would encourage sexual predators to enter public bathrooms of the opposite gender.

“The highest number of sexual predators are heterosexual men,” Mauro said during the meeting. “Maybe there should be an ordinance made there.”

Faith leaders on both sides of the debate quoted scripture to bolster their arguments. Pastor Don Landis of the Jackson Hole Bible College cited a passage from the Book of Matthew as he urged the council to strike down the ordinance. He said some of the lesbians he knew committed suicide, but he wasn’t sure if that was because “they were unfulfilled in their lifestyle” or depressed.

Andrew Munz, a PJH columnist, advocate and member of the LGBTQ community, had heard enough. “For the opposition, who tends to allow cherry-picked statistics and scripture to speak for them and guide their arguments, perhaps they won’t mind if I too selected a Bible verse in support of the ordinance.”

Like Landis, Munz chose a quote from Matthew 7: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Other commenters also crafted their words to address the arguments of opponents.

Advocate Matt Stech dismantled several talking points. Churches are already protected, he said. An ordinance to protect LGBTQ people would not affect those constitutional protections.

Sexual predators, meanwhile, “look a lot like me: a straight white guy.”

“I think we all know that politicians, actors, movie producers, doctors, educators and church leaders have been in the news recently for being predators of people young and not so young,” he said, referencing the #MeToo movement whose perpetrators have largely been straight men.

There is no research to back up the claims that such an ordinance would create any additional risk for people in public bathrooms, he added.

Stech became an LGBTQ advocate after he was involved in the suicide intervention of a young man “sitting on the edge of a cliff after being harassed and bullied for being gay.”

Stech’s experience is emblematic of a larger problem. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, the discrimination and harassment that LGBTQ people face make them three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. Suicide, meanwhile, is one of the leading causes of death among LGBTQ young people ages 10 to 24.

A few opponents claimed the ordinance would give LGBTQ people “special privileges.” Kathy Russell, executive assistant to the Wyoming Republican Party, said these “privileges” will automatically result in discrimination against a much larger and more diverse group of people.

Russell’s appearance at the meeting came just one week after the Teton County GOP, which has taken moderate stances on several issues in comparison to the state and national parties, endorsed the non-discrimination ordinance.

Local Pastor David Bott of the Redeemer Lutheran Church echoed Russell. He said the ordinance creates “an extra equal class, a protective class.” People who want to practice their religion would become “second-class citizens.” The ordinance would “demonize” them, he said.

Parishioners have approached him on the street and in church saying they oppose the ordinance, he said, but are afraid to speak up because it could ruin their reputation or business.

Some of the vocal opponents who denounced LGBTQ people that evening are precisely the reason the town needs such an ordinance, said Wyoming Equality’s Sara Burlingame. “When people stand up here and they tell you that members of the LGBTQ community are like pedophiles, people that sadistically hurt children … you should believe that they mean that.”

These are people who own businesses and interact with the community, she continued, “and if you believe that they will not willfully discriminate against us while they stand in a public hall and compare us to pedophiles, I think that is a very optimistic view of what their intentions are.”

Burlingame said she hopes these folks will ultimately learn acceptance and compassion, but if not, once this ordinance is passed they will not be able to exercise their prejudice in Jackson.

When the public comment period drew to a close, Town Council wasted little time drafting a motion. Mayor Pete Muldoon invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass as he called upon people to come together and recognize their shared humanity and the perennial fight for justice.

As Muldoon has become known to do, he pointed to lessons from the past in his closing statement: “Those in power throughout history have long used fear, hatred, discrimination and dehumanization to divide us, and to divide us is to conquer us. We must demand an end to that fear and hatred, we must insist that we are all fully and proudly and equally human.”

The ordinance’s third reading is tentatively scheduled for July 16. If it passes, Jackson will join Laramie as the only other Wyoming municipality with LGBTQ protections on the books.

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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