By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Incumbent and incoming Republican state legislators have written to University of Wyoming officials condemning the school’s decision to remove a church elder’s right to reserve a presentation table on campus after the elder displayed a sign calling out a transgender student by name.
Addressed to UW’s Board of Trustees president, two trustees, and vice president of Governmental Affairs and Community Engagement, the Dec. 9 letter also demands a change in the university’s handling of cultural issues.
“Please reverse the direction that the culture of our university is taking,” the letter reads. “Open dialogue and bold pursuit of reality is the proper environment for higher education.”
UW spokesman Chad Baldwin on Monday declined to comment on the letter’s contents.
Student’s Name Displayed
The controversy began Dec. 2, when Laramie church elder Todd Schmidt hung from his table in the student union a sign which read: “God created male and female, and (student’s name) is a male.”
The sign referenced a transgender inductee into the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.
Though its house is on campus, the sorority is a separate entity from the university.
A UW official asked Schmidt to change the part of the sign with the student’s name, and Schmidt complied. On Dec. 7, the University announced it is suspending Schmidt’s tabling privileges for a year.
Schmidt told Cowboy State Daily he feels his freedom of speech was violated.
The delegates’ letter agrees with that claim, saying Schmidt’s First Amendment rights were violated with the loss of table privileges. They demand that the university “cherish and protect the 1st Amendment rights of all, including those who believe in biological reality at The University.”
Where’s The Money?
The letter writers have asked the university to “condemn the accommodation of a biological man in a women’s sorority in the strongest possible terms,” adding that “young women deserve privacy and safety in their private spaces.”
They also asked for UW to “work tirelessly” to ensure that taxpayer funding “for this type of subject matter and accommodation is ceased” and to “refocus on serious intellectual inquiry and subject matter, as the University of Wyoming is a land grant college.”
The letter hints strongly at monetary impacts stemming from the incident, as the Wyoming Legislature controls taxpayer funding for the school.
“As those charged with the responsible allocation of funding through the Legislative process, we hope that the time-honored tenets (of) both our Constitution and Bill of Rights are safe and secure at our lone State University,” the letter concludes.
‘Into A Conversation’
The letter says that “the recitation of a three-thousand-year-old writing is hardly shocking and is not hate speech. To condemn it IS shocking.”
However, it is not the reference to the Bible’s passage in Genesis 1:27 – “God created … male and female” – but identifying the student by name, that the university suppressed.
“As a reflection,” university leaders wrote in a Dec. 5 campus-wide letter, “an approach of respect and integrity is about calling people into a conversation as opposed to calling people out.”
Wyoming’s top LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Wyoming Equality on Dec. 5 voiced its agreement, saying “harassing students falls outside of speech protected by the First Amendment, and… this kind of behavior is a violation of students’ basic rights.”
Wyoming Equality had had a “productive conversation” with UW President Ed Seidel, and felt Seidel’s stance is “a good indication of UW’s willingness to hold fast to the First Amendment, while also being clear that harassment and endangering students will not be tolerated.”
The following signatories are on the Dec. 9 letter from Republican legislators:
• Jeanette Ward, Representative-Elect of Casper
• Bill Allemand, Representative-Elect of Casper
• Tony Locke, Representative-Elect of Casper
• Rep. Mark Jennings, Sheridan
• Rep. John Bear, Gillette
• Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, Wheatland
• Rep. John Winter, Thermopolis
• Rep. Pepper Ottman, Riverton
• Rep. Chris Knapp, Gillette
• Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, Cody
• Rep. Scott Heiner, Green River
• Ken Pendergraft, Representative-Elect of Sheridan
• Bob Davis, Representative-Elect of Baggs
• Rep. Clarence Styvar, Cheyenne
• Tomi Strock, Representative-Elect of Douglas
• Sarah Penn, Representative-Elect of Lander
• Abby Angelos, Representative-Elect of Gillette
• Scott Smith, Representative-Elect of Lingle
• Allen Slagle, Representative-Elect of Lusk
• Sen. Bob Ide, Casper
• Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, Lingle
• Sen. Lynn Hutchings, Cheyenne
• Sen. Tim French, Powell
• Rep. Dan Laursen, Senator-Elect of Powell
• Rep. Chuck Gray, Secretary of State-Elect, of Casper
• Incoming House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Chip Neiman, Hulett, penned a subsequent letter in support of this letter.