United Voice: January 2016
Friends, members, and allies,
Happy New Year! 2016 is here and we’re off to the races. Hoping this New Year is treating you all extremely well! With this year we are setting our sights on a number of projects and of course the 2016 Legislative budget session is practically upon us!
We have a number of social events coming up that I’m extremely excited about. Drag Queen Bingo is happening this Saturday in Cheyenne and ticket sales have been robust! We will still have plenty of seating for any of you who would like to just show up and buy your tickets at the door, but we’d encourage you to buy online via our website if you’re able to do so. We are also looking at a St. Patty’s Day dance in March and an Art Show in April. Please stay tuned and we’ll keep you posted.
Speaking of websites… have you been to wyomingequality.org lately? I remember when I first became involved with this organization and I paid the website a visit. My first thought was, “Wow, 1985 is calling and they want their website back!” Well this is no longer the case! I want to give mad props to our board member John King! He has overhauled our website and it looks amazing. We have an up to date functioning calendar, links to all of our events along with the ability to purchase tickets to these events, a new Rendezvous website, GSA resources, news and so much more! Thank you John for all your help with our website.
So now let’s get to the upcoming legislative session. What can we expect? It’s hard to say since this will be a budget session. Basically that means we will have a shorter 20 day session and any bill not related to the budget (like non-discrimination) will require a 2/3rds majority vote for passage. This always makes for an interesting challenge but we’re up for it! I think it’s important to keep non-discrimination in the media spotlight and to keep lawmakers talking about this and how we can make WY a discrimination free zone! Of course it won’t be easy but we’re never going to hit a home run unless we keep swinging the bat!
Stay tuned to for legislative updates, action alerts, and all the other “fun” stuff that comes along with a new legislative session. We are also planning a town hall meeting in Casper around the upcoming session and we’re hoping to provide you with tools and talking points to become a more informed citizen lobbyist. We’ll be announcing details shortly.
Finally as I wrap up my column I want to thank Laura Weatherford for her year and a half of service. Laura has tendered her resignation and will be going back to school and working on new endeavors. Laura, it has been my privilege and honor to work alongside you this last year and half! I have the utmost respect for you and wish you the best on your new adventures. Please stay in touch and come back and visit us often!
I’m excited to start working with Sara Burlingame who has stepped into Laura’s very big shoes. We are excited about the new opportunities that lie ahead and I know you’re going to be a great addition to the team!
Hoping to see you all very soon and wishing you the best in this New Year,
Farewell From Laura
Well, the time has come for me to step down from my position at Wyoming Equality. Beginning in February, Sara will take over as the public education coordinator. She will introduce herself, so all I will say is that she is a vibrant, passionate woman with a lot of experience advocating for LGBTQ rights. I had the privilege of working with her last year during the state Legislature. She and I shared moments of joy, of sorrow, and of disbelief. Working for rights of people—rights that affect real people in real life—naturally presents a gamut of emotions. The outcomes of the work really affect people, so it’s not something I can easily discard as I walk through my front door after a tough day. I care about each of you, without even knowing all of you, and I understand the importance of this work. However, along with the tougher days, there were also a lot of happy moments.
The legislative session was one of the highlights of my tenure here at Wyoming Equality. This was a highlight because many supporters rose up to discuss the importance of including sexual orientation and gender identity in our state’s anti-discrimination law. I wasn’t expecting to have so much support! There were a variety of supporters, ranging from the Wyoming Mining Association to the Wyoming Education Association. This showed that people of all walks of life understand the value in standing up for our friends, family members and neighbors. We value work ethic, fairness, and following the golden rule. That was one of the best things about working in this position—standing up for values such as hard work, fairness, kindness, and integrity. It has been wonderful meeting others who share these views and then engaging in discussions with those who share these values but view the situation differently. I learned so much this past year.
The best experience, however, was the passing of the non-discrimination ordinance in Laramie. Hands down, that was the best experience. Not only was Laramie the first and only town, to date, to pass a non-discrimination ordinance in Wyoming, but the building was full of supporters. Tears were shed, a myriad of perspectives and reasons were shared, and yet nearly every person stood on the same side: we do not support discrimination. We support diversity, fairness, and love. I cried a few times, with a full and grateful heart. The testimony that touched me deepest was my father’s. I’ll never forget how I felt that day. I felt so much love and felt so very blessed to be there in that room at that moment.
Throughout much of my time here, I have felt so much love and have felt blessed. I met many wonderful people and had opportunities to talk with this world’s finest. You were the reason I was able to continue working toward a less discriminatory society when I felt disheartened or discouraged—I admire each of you for your strength, your resiliency, your hope, and your love. Thank you for coming into my life and letting me into yours. I’ll forever be grateful for this opportunity.
Introduction From Sara
I am so thrilled to introduce myself to you, and jump into the exciting work that we have to do together. But first, I want to extend my deep thanks to my good friend, Laura Weatherford, who pioneered this position, and created such a powerful network of committed allies around the state. Laura has a gift for inspiring people to see the common sense behind non-discrimination protections and it is an honor to continue her good work.
My friend Dr Fatimah Sellah likes to remind me that it is important when you introduce yourself to give your social location; that is we should say where we come from, not just who we are. I’m a 40 year old cis queer woman who is married to beautiful man with whom I have three headstrong and charming sons. We have made our home in Wyoming for almost 20 years now. I was raised a Bahai (an offshoot of Islam) and grew up in small towns all over the intermountain west. I was always aware of my family’s difference in our small towns because of our religion and later because of my sexuality. I feel in my bones and blood how alienating it can be to find yourself unwelcomed in your community. And I also feel how keenly good a voice of understanding can be. Wyoming Equality has been that voice; through our comfort, our advocacy, our steady declaration that LGBTQ Wyoming people matter, our values are Wyoming values.
I am so proud to join Wyoming Equality in doing this good work. My focus will be on non discrimination legislation and ordinances, building up networks of allies around the state with a particular focus on faith communities. We know that some of the strongest opposition comes from wrong headed religious dogma that denies the full humanity of LGBTQ citizens. My background is in interfaith dialogue and I look forward to creating dialogue and forging friendships wherever they can be found.
And I have a favor to ask. Actually, two. We are a big state and I need to know if there are people who need more support or information. These are your communities; you know them best. If there are folks we should be reaching out to, please send me an email or call me. I’d love to hear from you. And second I want to ask everyone reading this who has not signed up for a monthly donation to please do so now. We are your voice in the legislature, in town halls, funding the wave of GSA’s in high schools all over Wyoming, in churches and kitchen tables; Wyoming Equality is making sure that the concerns of LGBTQ people are being heard. Please commit to donating, $10, $20 or more a month; we need you. www.wyopride.org/donate
I recently attended a school board meeting in Laramie concerning two proposed policies that are aimed to help protect Trans youth in schools. In some aspects it went really well and others not so great. Some of the things said that night were a little disconcerting being and open transman myself. One person actually compared us to being dogs and a couple others used scripture to make their case. All and all it was a good meeting. There were no interruptions or snide remarks from either side. Everyone listened to each other and respected their thoughts and comments.
With everything going on in Laramie, it makes me want to try and implement something here in Cheyenne’s schools. I have been in contact with one of the local GSAs and we chatted about somethings that need to be in place for our own trans youth and the future trans kids. Some people have voiced that discrimination doesn’t happen here so why do we need these policies? I say we need these policies because these things DO happen they are just not reported because the kids are afraid nothing will be done about it.
I believe it is our responsibility to protect ALL youth and put an end to the bullying in the schools. We need to teach our children to be tolerant and accepting of people that are different from them instead of teaching hate. Last I knew we live in the United States where we are free to be who we are.
Lastly, if you agree with even the slightest thing I wrote please donate to Wyoming Equality so that we can fight the good fight here in the state and help protect our youth.
A SEED IS PLANTED
As the population in our town has risen in the last few years, so has the number of people who have a heart for equality. In 2014, the first pro-LGBTQ organization, a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter, in Gillette, WY came to be when community members saw a dire need for change in the treatment and overall perspective of LGBTQ people.
The president of the group, Karin Ebertz, along with some of her courageous comrades started a PFLAG chapter in hopes of providing support to the LGBTQ people of Gillette, educating the public on the unique struggles that LGBTQ people face, advocating to change laws that heighten discrimination, and creating a more positive mindset in the community towards LGBTQ people. In the words of Karin herself, here is how the seed for change was planted: “A friend in Casper had introduced me to PFLAG and the organization’s outstanding literature and support groups when my daughter came out. The stories I read about how other moms and dads stood up for their teens and young adult children, and accepted them for who they were inspired me.” Inspiration goes a long way, and this certainly proves to be true with Karin and the PFLAG Gillette chapter.
PFLAG Gillette is a wonderfully diverse, yet cohesive group of individuals who have a shared vision of how our society should be interacting with LGBTQ people. President Ebertz describes our group as “a blend of people who have lived in Campbell County for decades, and young professionals in education, law, and social services. It’s the most amazing group of folks I’ve had the privilege to work with, and I trust and look forward to what this group will accomplish together.”
“I never thought I would live to see the day for Gillette, WY to have an organization such as this.” This statement was heard from an attendee of PFLAG Gillette’s first pride picnic held in the summer of 2015 – the day after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges. Perfect timing for a celebration, eh? As you can see, we are already breaking down barriers in our short span of existence (with rainbows and love, of course). As a newly “out” group, our nerves were attempting to overtake our courage to host our first major event in this abundantly conservative community. Every now and then, the PFLAG members communicate this fear to one another, but finding a way to remind each other of our group’s purpose is always an expectation we hold for ourselves. As Mr. Joe Cocker wonderfully sings, we “get by with a little help from our friends.”
The triumphs did not stop there. The pride picnic marked the beginning of a series of community events that PFLAG Gillette participated in and events that we hosted as a group, and the picnic ultimately became a catalyst of motivation for us all. To let our community be aware of our presence a bit more, we participated in a local culture festival, hosted an LGBTQ-themed movie night, entered a rainbow-colored wreath for display at the “Festival of Trees,” hosted a PFLAG Potluck, and had several informal gatherings for conversation and coffee at a local coffee shop. We are so anxious to add many, many more events to this list as we gain exposure and support in our community.
PFLAG Gillette just celebrated its one-year anniversary. What an incredible milestone in this group’s life-time! We are so proud of our progress that has already been made in our community and our state, and PFLAG Gillette is most definitely in it for the long haul. Our hope is to join efforts with other LGBTQ/ ally organizations and people within the state and region to maximize the effects of our actions that promote positive change within the LGBTQ community. This thought from RuPaul epitomizes PFLAG Gillette and its certainty for creating change: “When you be- come the image of your own imagination, it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.” But, the success of PFLAG Gillette is no longer part of our imagination – it’s action, courage, and love.
Trey Sutherland PFLAG Gillette
Communications and Outreach