Participate in Democracy at the NDO’s Final Reading

By on July 11, 2018

Tense and encouraging moments defined the second reading of Jackson’s LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance, now citizens must see the process to the finish line

(Robyn Vincent) Lauren Ames and Anne Marie Wells found themselves on the June 27 cover of Planet Jackson Hole. They were among the subjects of ‘Queen for More than a Day,’ a story about LGBTQ people demanding an out life in Jackson.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Driving into Jackson last week, my companions and I stopped for a quick dip into the Hoback River. The sun was burning bright and it gave us false hope that the river might have absorbed some of the heat, offering us a refreshing lark as we headed into town for Jackson Town Council’s second reading of the LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance. The sun may have been blazing but the Hoback was, to put it mildly, bracing. It sent a shock up our travel-weary legs and we skedaddled for the car, laughing at our naivete.

Three of us had driven from Cheyenne that afternoon with mixed expectations for the evening. I am the executive director of Wyoming Equality, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization and I was accompanied by my colleagues Adrienne Vetter, a Laramie artist, and Shayna Lonoaea Alexander, Wyoming Equality’s treasurer and chair of the Young Dems. We’ve been in communication with the local PFLAG chapter headed by the tireless Mark Houser and local advocates like Matt Stech and Michael Yin.

Outside Jackson Town Hall stood Rev. Jonathan Lange, a Lutheran pastor from Evanston who had made the trip to denounce the ordinance. Lange and I frequently spar in Cheyenne during legislative sessions. We’ve done our best, I believe, to find some common ground with very little success. I struggle to find any kindness in the positions he takes and he likely feels the same about me. Nevertheless, outside Town Hall we greeted one another and extended the friendly courtesies that neighbors make when we find ourselves on opposite sides of the fence

When the meeting started I was surprised to hear from Kathy Russell, the executive assistant to the Wyoming Republican Party, who spoke in opposition to the ordinance, despite the fact that the Teton County GOP Executive Committee had issued a statement in support of the ordinance just the week before. What incredibly poor form to disregard the local party’s sovereignty, and a bizarre twist from the GOP to insist that state interests should supercede local. Et tu, Frank Eathorne?  

In all, more than a dozen folks, about half from Jackson and half from other parts of the state, spoke against the ordinance. The thrust of their argument was that their religious rights were being infringed on, and they made their case by comparing members of the LGBTQ community to dogs who “urinate wherever they please, they have sex wherever they please.” Some compared us to pedophiles.

Local Pastor Don Landis of the Jackson Hole Bible College questioned whether lesbian members of the Jackson community who had taken their own lives did so “because they were unfulfilled in their lifestyle,” and the list goes on.

For the most part, opponents made their cases with a disturbing level of sincerity. Many preceded or followed their arguments with some attestation that they loved us and considered their words both patriotic and guided by a love for the Constitution or their love for Christ.

I didn’t feel loved. It may very well have been their intent to offer love, but what I felt was contempt.

Their messages were contrasted by more than a dozen members of the Jackson community and us three visitors who spoke in favor of the ordinance.  The arguments made in favor ranged from economic pragmatism, the golden rule and heartfelt declarations from both an Episcopal and a Lutheran priest that their Christian discipleship guided their support. There was a call to make laws that recognize the value and worth of LGBTQ teens in the hopes it would slow the suicide rate, comparisons to laws that protect our LGBTQ armed service members as long as they stay on military bases—because the current laws of Wyoming do not offer these soldiers the same protection—and a handful of stories from the Jackson community about those who have long faced discrimination and subsequent inner turmoil.

I looked around town chambers and saw a group of citizens on the eve of American Independence Day, doing the thing our Founders set out to do: create a democracy that demanded participation and passion.

Mayor Pete Muldoon quoted Dr, Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass, two men who knew something about loving a country profoundly while knowing it needed to change. When the vote was called, Jackson Town Council voted unanimously in favor of moving Ordinance M to a third reading.

It did not feel like a small moment.

Like the pure mountain water rushing through the Hoback, it felt bracing. And for someone who has been waiting a long time to see public officials recognize the humanity and rights of LGBTQ Wyomingites, it was a long overdue action and a sweet relief.

On New Year’s Day many of us make goals for the coming year. Maybe we should start a new tradition: on Independence Day we should commit to participating in our democracy. The third reading of the non-discrimination ordinance—scheduled for Jackson Town Council’s July 16 meeting—would be a great place to start.

About Sara Burlingame

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