By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
The University of Wyoming is suspending a Laramie church elder’s ability to reserve table space in its student union for a year after the man on Friday posted a sign that displayed a transgender student’s name and called that student “a male.”
“Recent events on campus should cause us all trepidation for the well-being and safety of our students and employees,” wrote UW President Ed Seidel in a campus-wide email on Wednesday.
Those three events included instances last Wednesday and Thursday in which the same group of five students “spoke disparagingly” about LGBTQ students while standing near separate, planned LGBTQ events, according to university spokesman Chad Baldwin.
‘Male And Female’
The third event happened Friday when Todd Schmidt, a church elder in Laramie, displayed a sign at his rented table in the Wyoming Union proclaiming that, “God created male and female” and calling out a transgender sorority member by name as “a male.”
University staff immediately asked Schmidt to change the part of the sign showing the student’s name, and Schmidt complied.
The University reviewed Schmidt’s incident and deemed it harassment, according to Seidel’s letter.
“We have determined that these actions violated the university policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment,” the letter reads. “Given this, the individual’s privileges to reserve a table in the Union have been suspended for one year.”
Seidel wrote that he and other UW officials attended a “moving and heartfelt vigil” off-campus Monday, where members of the college’s Queer Community Coalition “expressed their concerns and fears for their safety, as well as their hopes for our UW community and future.”
“I emphasize that UW stands with each and every student and all identities who are dealing with safety concerns within our community,” Seidel wrote.
Baldwin told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that he had not heard of any threats or acts of violence toward the sorority member nor the LGBTQ event attendees from the prior week, but that all incidents were still under investigation.
Freedom Of Expression
Schmidt told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that he felt his right to free speech had been infringed when he was asked to change the sign.
Seidel countered in his letter, writing: “While freedom of expression is cherished on this campus and across the nation, a line was crossed when a student was harassed by name.”
Seidel said “harassment of any student or any university community member” will not be tolerated on campus.
Wyoming Equality, a Wyoming LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced in a Monday statement that it is “firmly in favor” of the First Amendment right to free speech, but that it believes Schmidt’s gesture “falls outside of speech protected by the First Amendment, and that this kind of behavior is a violation of students’ basic rights.”
Schmidt told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that he disagrees altogether with the findings of harassment and discrimination in his incident.
He said students on Friday confronted him with “(the notion) that somebody could read my sign, find out where (the student) lives and go do him harm,” said Schmidt.
“You can’t pin that responsibility on me,” he continued. “All I said was he’s a male. I in no way threatened or harassed or bullied him.”
Schmidt said he had expected backlash, “but not to this extent,” since the student’s name already was public following an October interview with the university newspaper, the Branding Iron.
“If he wanted to stay private, he shouldn’t have allowed anybody to interview him,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt also addressed Seidel’s letter, saying that Seidel’s safety concerns should extend to the biological females staying in the sorority with a transgender woman.
“Why doesn’t (Seidel) deal with the safety concerns of the sorority sisters?” asked Schmidt. “I haven’t heard anybody speak on behalf of them.”
The backlash has been significant, including from Rodger McDaniel, pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne, who posted the story to his Facebook page and attached a rebuke against Schmidt.
McDaniel told Cowboy State Daily that his church is a subcategory of the Presbyterian denomination that is open to LGBTQ membership.
“With people like (Schmidt) spreading the Gospel, it will die,” said McDaniel. “He drove more young people away from the church that day than he could count.”
Schmidt had said Tuesday, before the university’s suspension, that he had planned to visit the Union again this Friday to speak to students about Christianity.