Pronoun Controversy: Teachers Will Not Get Prosecuted In Sweetwater County For ‘Misgendering’ Students

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

“Misgendering” a student in school does not rise to the criminal level, according to a top prosecutor in Wyoming.   

Dan Erramouspe, Sweetwater County Attorney, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that “misgendering” a child, or calling them pronouns associated with their biological situation rather than their preference, does not fall into the criminal realm in Wyoming.  

Erramouspe prosecutes crimes in Sweetwater County.    

Erramouspe reflected on a Monday meeting of the board for Sweetwater County School District No. 1, where the public raised questions about the school district’s policies surrounding transgender students. The school board’s attorney, Kari Moneyhun, delivered a presentation regarding policies specific to transgender and gay students.     

Moneyhun said during her presentation that under most court rulings, “misgendering” a student amounts to sexual harassment.   

But that’s a civil issue, not a criminal issue, Erramouspe said in his interview.  

The prosecutor did not opine on whether the federal civil rights law treats “misgendering” as sexual harassment. But he said the act does not constitute a crime, in his reading of Wyoming statutes.  

Wyoming does not have a law against sexual harassment.  

“That would be more of a civil issue, (of) whether or not there’s any type of civil rights violated federally,” said Erramouspe.    

Not Child Abuse 

The only way his office would become involved in the controversy, he said, is if someone claimed that “misgendering” a child is child abuse. 

In his view, it’s not.    

“(I wouldn’t be involved in the issue) unless they want to somehow tie this into mentally abusing a child by not referring to them by their pronouns, which in my opinion would be ludicrous,” Erramouspe said.    

Child abuse cases based on claims of mental abuse also are not common in Wyoming, he said, because “those are tougher to prove than physical child abuse.”    

Erramouspe reiterated that he would not charge a teacher with mental child abuse for using a student’s biological pronouns.    

Colorado, Also 

Even in Colorado, where a lengthy anti-discrimination law includes protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, prosecutors do not expect to charge citizens criminally for “misgendering,” according to a spokeswoman. 

“We are unaware of any crime that fits (that) situation nor have we seen any draft legislation that contemplates criminalizing speech in this manner,” said Elizabeth Schrack, communications manager for the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.  

Beth McCann, District Attorney for Denver, also does not expect to prosecute people for using non-preferred pronouns, according to her spokeswoman.  

“We do not anticipate a criminal prosecution under Colorado’s laws but DA McCann does support the recent law passed by our legislature prohibiting discrimination against those who are members of the LGBTQ community,” said Carolyn Tyler, communications director for McCann’s office.

The latest legislation out of Colorado extends equal treatment and public facilities access to all people regardless of “gender identity” and “gender expression.”   

‘Whatever The Student Wants’   

During the meeting Monday, Carol Jelaco, Sweetwater County School District No. 1 board chairwoman, declined to give a concrete explanation of the district’s transgender rights policy, saying all issues would be dealt with on a “case-by-case basis.”    

She also said teachers may keep students’ transgender behavior a secret from parents if the students express a fear of repercussions from their parents. 

“If the student expresses a fear of what might happen if their parents are told, the district, from my interpretation is bound to keep the student’s – shall we say – whatever the student wants is paramount,” said Jelaco.    

Jelaco did not respond Wednesday to an emailed request for additional comment.    

Moneyhun also had said that schools may choose to hide students’ transgender behavior from their parents, if the school believes the student’s safety may be at risk by disclosing that behavior.  

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