On Tuesday, Nov. 28, the Casper City Council discussed the possibility of an “anti-discrimination resolution.” Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) argued that the city should go on record affirming “the right of LGBT citizens in Casper to live free of discrimination in all its forms.”
After a 20-minute discussion, Mayor Kenyne Humphrey told the assembly that it would be discussed again at another work meeting sometime in the future.
Even though the title of the resolution speaks of “discrimination of any kind,” its repeated focus is on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” I wish to contribute to the discussion here by giving a brief history of this language.
The phrases: “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) were first rolled out on March 26, 2007 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. They were imbedded in “the Yogyakarta Principles,” which had been drawn up a few months earlier by a conference of about 30 legal scholars in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. You can read an excellent legal summary of these principles in “Ten Years of International Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Laws: Lessons Learned” (Public Discourse, March 27, 2017).
Wyoming started seeing SOGI language when Representative Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) sponsored HB 142 “Discrimination,” in January 2011. This bill and its variations has been proposed and defeated at least four times. After its 2015 defeat, the LGBT lobby announced their intention to go local and try passing SOGI ordinances city-by-city in order to build momentum for a state law.
They began in Laramie. In April of 2015 a SOGI ordinance was proposed that criminalizes various acts of free speech and the free exercise of religion in the public square. You can read it here: https://www.cityoflaramie.org/DocumentCenter/View/8990. Many concerned citizens came to the city council to object that it seemed to be in open conflict with the First Amendment.
Their objections were dismissed by the seven council members intent on voting for the ordinance. They claimed that a single line (9.32.070) generically acknowledging the First Amendment, should be enough to address their concerns. But amendments to put these assurances into writing were rejected. This heightened concerns that the SOGI ordinance did not recognize the free exercise of religion even within the walls of Laramie’s churches. In the end (May 2015) Laramie passed one of the most draconian SOGI ordinances in the entire United States.
As the LGBT lobby moved on to Jackson and Cheyenne, they ran into opposition that had been galvanized by Laramie’s strident overreach. At the July 20, 2015, meeting of Jackson’s Town Council, strong opposition from the public persuaded Mayor Sara Flitner to ask the city attorney for a more careful legal analysis of the ordinance, patterned after Laramie’s.
Jackson attorney Audrey Cohen-Davis reported back to the Council on Nov. 16, 2015: “The legal issues involved with passing an ordinance are significant and challenging… in order to enforce a discrimination case at the municipal level, the ordinance must criminalize discrimination.” (Nov. 16, 2015, Jackson Town Council). These legal concerns caused Jackson to halt attempts to pass the “Laramie Ordinance.” Instead, they decided to pass a “Resolution.”
Ordinances have the force of law, and require a formal process of three public readings and debate extending a month or more. Resolutions have no legal force, but neither do they require careful deliberation. They can be adopted by a city council in a single meeting. This has the advantage of inserting the Yogyakarta SOGI language into the public record, without the disadvantage of extended public scrutiny.
Since Jackson passed its SOGI resolution in December 2015, Gillette (September 2016) and Cheyenne (October 2016) followed suit. After nearly three years, Wyoming has one SOGI ordinance, and three SOGI resolutions.
Even though SOGI resolutions are far easier to pass, opposition can still be strong. Cheyenne’s City Council heard public testimony until 11:30 p.m. from a standing-room-only crowd. Key council members were persuaded to vote for the resolution with the understanding that this would put the SOGI matter to rest. Only three months later, they found that the matter was not over and that the LGBT lobby was gearing up for another push to pass a SOGI ordinance (this push failed in August 2017).
But if a resolution has no force of law, what’s the point? The point of these resolutions is the same as the point of Laramie’s ordinance. It is not to change things on the ground (Laramie has yet to enforce the ordinance, even though there have been apparent violations.) The point is to build momentum for a state law.
Wyoming Public Media, a biased supporter of the LGBT lobby, wrote about Gillette’s resolution with surprising candor, “The resolution has no real legal power but is designed to encourage the Wyoming Legislature to take action.” (Gillette Adopts Non-Discrimination Resolution, Sept. 22, 2016).
Similarly, the Casper Star Tribune quoted Dee Lundberg, spokesperson for PFLAG, explaining their desire for “a resolution instead of the legal requirements of an ordinance [in order] to gain community support, ‘it’s better to have a win in our column.’” (Casper City Council Backs Sexual Orientation Equal Rights Resolution, Tom Morton, Nov. 29, 2017)
Let that sink in. The published purpose of SOGI resolutions is not to do anything for the people of these cities, but to help the international LGBT lobby push an agenda by scoring a “win in our column.” Apparently, the ubiquitous argument that SOGI resolutions are of “benefit to the economy,” not only lacks supporting data, but is not the real point anyway.
This is obvious in the very title of K2 Radio’s article. Even though the Casper City Council took no vote, and did not even place the SOGI resolution on the agenda for a vote, it breathlessly claimed: “Casper City Council Backs Sexual Orientation Equal Rights Resolution.”
Today, Jack Phillips is standing before the Supreme Court of the United States. He is a victim of one of the first SOGI ordinances passed in America. Lakewood, Colorado, believes that its SOGI ordinance gives it the right to force Jack into celebrating same-sex “weddings” if he wants to do business in Lakewood. The city has forbidden him from baking any wedding cakes at all (40 percent of his business) unless he will first publicly promise to make wedding cakes for same-sex “weddings.”
Lakewood is not forcing Phillips to make cakes for Halloween because SOGI language does not protect Trick-or-Treaters. Nor is Lakewood forcing him to make cakes celebrating divorce. SOGI language does not cover divorcees. SOGI language is only concerned with equal rights for some people.
The title of Casper’s proposed resolution speaks of “discrimination of any kind.” But when council member Chris Walsh brought up the possibility of using that same language in the body of the resolution, instead of using only SOGI language, PFLAG opposed the idea.
Dee Lundberg specifically opposed a resolution passed by the City of Sheridan to reject “discrimination of any kind and to respect the inherent worth of every person, without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, handicap, sex, age, gender, veteran status, or political affiliation.”
Rob Johnston, President of PFLAG, explained, “the reason that the language is in this case specific to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals is because we feel that sometimes if it is not included, then it is excluded, and we don’t want that to happen.”
As Jack Phillips stands before the Supreme Court seeking his right to be who he is and speak his own mind in the city of Lakewood, I am certain that he wishes that he had been included in their anti-discrimination ordinance. By not being included, he has been excluded. None of us should want that to happen.
The real question is whether SOGI language is inclusive enough, or whether it is designed to exclude certain people, viewpoints, religions or denominations. Opponents of SOGI language are not arguing for discrimination, but against it. Nobody should be treated unfairly no matter what they think, or feel, or say.
Jonathan Lange has a heart for our state and community. Locally, he has raised his family and served as pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Evanston and St. Paul’s in Kemmerer for two decades. Statewide, he leads the Wyoming Pastors Network in advocating for the traditional church in the public square.