By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Legislators and candidates are mobilizing to address the revelation of sexually-graphic books in a Wyoming high school library.
Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, hosted a lunch-hour rally Tuesday in Cody featuring conservative personalities and candidates for state offices. The event was advertised as an effort to “(push) back against sexualizing children in K-12 public education.”
Speakers addressed two books, “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” that remain in the Kelly Walsh High School library following a challenge against them, as well as other books throughout Wyoming school libraries.
Ahead of the event, Rodriguez-Williams told a handful of conservative legislators in a Thursday zoom meeting, streamed to Facebook, that she would work to repeal Wyoming’s obscenity exemption for librarians and educators. The exemption forbids prosecutors from charging librarians and educators with obscenity, a misdemeanor, if the latter are working within the course of their duties.
At her rally Tuesday, Rodriguez-Williams condemned the books as pornographic and said conservative legislators are going to dilute the power of the Wyoming Education Association.
Wyoming Education Association government relations director Tate Mullen on Oct. 10 told the state legislative committee on education that the inflammatory public-school issues covered in the national media are not happening in Wyoming, but the “patently false” rhetoric is seeping into the state, causing legislative persecution of the public school system.
“(Educators) have watched this legislative attempt to pass legislation that targets our LGBTQ+ student population, continuing in sowing divisiveness against a student population our classroom instructors and staff have recognized are the most at-risk and in need of protective policies, not exclusionary ones,” said Mullen.
During the 2022 legislative session, Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, attempted to pass a bill titled “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” that would have kept biological males out of female school sports. Schuler’s bill did not pass; many legislators cited a lack of time to work through it during the rushed budget session.
Wyoming Education Association lobbies for public school interests in Wyoming.
When Was The Last Time?
Dalton Banks, a Republican running unopposed to represent state House District 26, said pornography resembles a drug and all of society has a duty to keep it away from children, not merely by being defensive, but by being proactive.
“We see a nationwide turn from morals and values everywhere, even here in small-town Wyoming, and our schools embrace it and our teachers’ unions embrace it because it makes our kids easier to control,” he said. “You take away morals, you take away values – and you’ve got them.”
Banks challenged the crowd, saying Wyomingites need to be good examples for children and youth.
“When was the last time you took a kid aside, who was struggling, and taught them what it was like to raise and butcher a hog? … To safely operate a firearm? When was the last time you taught a man how to be a gentleman and help the elder neighbor lady bring in her groceries?” he asked.
Banks said though he and Rodriguez-Williams have vowed “to fight this” at the state Capitol, he hoped there were “good people” at home doing the same in any way possible.
Brent Bien, who is running as a write-in candidate for governor after losing the Republican nomination to Gov. Mark Gordon in August, told attendees that “the hyper-sexualization of our children is all part of a bigger plan.”
Bien said there is a pervasive global agenda to dissolve the “nuclear family” – that is, a tight-night procreative family unit – to weaken successful societies like America’s. He said he opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the U.S. military more than a decade ago.
“We the electorate are responsible for what’s happening, across the nation. (We’ve been) putting our blinders on. Now is the time for us to stand up and say ‘no.’” said Bien.
Pastor Pat Alphin of the Cody Cowboy Church said people need to get to know school board candidates and local politicians. Alphin also said there should be public servant turnover.
“We’ve gotta get these (books) out and it’s obvious the only way we’re going to get these things out of libraries is by removing the school board and replacing them with people who stand up for the truth,” said Alphin.
In June, a complaint committee approved “The Color Purple” and “How to Be An Antiracist” to remain in the Cody High School library.
Rodriguez-Williams’ rally-goers are not the only voices in the policy world who have spoken out about the books in the Kelly Walsh High School library, and other reportedly graphic books throughout the state.
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, posted to his political Facebook page Thursday that he believes in local control, but can’t stay silent on the issue because “these types of books do not belong in schools. They are outside of the use of the school library, in my opinion, and have no place in our schools.”
Brown, who did not attend the Tuesday rally, said he supports students learning through reading, but disagrees with “these types of pictures and graphic nature of the language used.”
Brown is a member of the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee, which oversees funding allotments and policy changes for Wyoming’s public schools.
Before Brown, two policy-makers who oversee changes to criminal law on the Joint Judiciary Committee, Reps. Art Washut, R-Casper, and Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, gave opposite positions on the books themselves. Washut did not commit to legislation, but said if school boards don’t act fast, legislators will intervene.
Provenza said no action should be taken legislatively, though parents can monitor what their children are reading for themselves.
In the case of Kelly Walsh High School library, parents have the option to forbid their children from checking out certain books.
The likely next secretary of state, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, was slated to speak at the rally but did not attend.
Gray told Cowboy State Daily in a text that he had a time conflict and was at another meeting but supports Rodriguez-Williams “and her efforts to protect Wyoming’s children, 100%.”
Now that he has given up his House seat, Gray will soon surrender his ability to alter or vote on legislation on obscenity, education or any other policy issue.