By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
It’s the end of a short-lived era for a socialist LGBTQ compound in Laramie.
For more than four years, the Holliday Mansion west of Laramie has housed members of the LGBTQ community from around the country and Wyoming looking to start a new life in a socialistic communal setting known as the Solidarity Collective.
“It’s just really hard to support a property of that size when you have people coming and going,” said part-owner Yana Ludwig.
The Collective used the Victorian-style mansion that was built in 1878 to live out the concept of an intentional community, a group of people living together in one space based on shared values and goals.
The home was in many ways a Cowboy State socialist utopia confined to a 3-acre rural property. Ludwig and others bought the Solidarity House together and managed it jointly. They ran a small-scale farming business from the home and residents made all household decisions by consensus.
On The Market
The 5,733-square-foot collective home is now on the market for $830,000.
Ludwig said they hope another nonprofit or community organization will buy the property, but they will sell it to a private buyer if that doesn’t work out.
The six-bedroom home and 3-acre property has been home to five to 16 people at any given time, Ludwig estimates. It boasts a prominent turret, a deck framed by white lattice and eight bathrooms spread out between the mansion and five separate apartments on the property.
There also is a Quonset hut, greenhouse and chicken yard.
“It was perfect for our community,” she said, adding that, “it’s time for all of us to move on.”
She said there’s also fatigue from the general animosity they’ve felt from the local community “that make it clear people like you aren’t welcome.”
“There’s absolutely people in Wyoming who wish we didn’t exist,” she said. “It’s hard to stay grounded when that’s around you a lot.”
She said members of the home faced “hostility” for a variety of reasons.
Ludwig said nearly everyone who has lived there identifies as queer or gender queer. She said the Solidarity Collective is one of the few safe havens in Wyoming for members of the LGBTQ, socialist and communist communities. Some people have moved to the home because they said they didn’t feel safe elsewhere in the state. Likewise, they also had people move in from other parts of the country for the same reason.
“It’s been really needed, and it’s also been really hard,” Ludwig said.
A Socialist In Wyoming
To some, the conservative state of Wyoming may seem like an unlikely setting for a project like this, but socialism actually had a sizable Cowboy State footprint in the past.
In the early 1900s, many European immigrants working on the Union Pacific Railroad in Sweetwater County were involved with the party. According to a 2021 WyoFile story, the party ran candidates in Rock Springs for municipal offices, and in 1908 held a statewide convention. Eugene Debs, a 1912 Socialist Party candidate for U.S. president, came to Rock Springs to speak in 1910.
Members of the collective were politically engaged and arrested for their roles in protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
Ludwig also used the home as headquarters for her 2020 U.S. Senate campaign. She ran as a member of the Democratic Party and finished second in the six-person primary field, receiving nearly 5,000 votes.
“We felt really good about it,” she said.
Ludwig espoused socialistic principles during her campaign, which she said were the basis for her campaign. She has been practicing socialism, consciously and unconsciously, for most of her adult life and has helped start collectives in other communities.
“I definitely am a socialist,” she said.
Identifying as bisexual, Ludwig said she never received any negativity about her sexual orientation during her campaign. When it came to socialism, that was a different story.
Socialism has been thrown around as a catchphrase among many conservative circles of Wyoming in recent years. Some Republicans have even accused fellow Republicans employing socialistic practices.
Ludwig saw her campaign was half politics and the other an educational tour on socialism. Her main goal was changing the political discourse on the topic.
“We were out to change that as much as anything else,” she said.
One of her favorite moments on the campaign trail came when people would accuse her of being a socialist, and in response, would proudly embrace the characterization.
“I would say, ‘Yes I am,’” she said.
Ludwig said there’s much misinformation when it comes to the true definition of socialism. She defines socialism as every worker having an ownership stake in the organization they are working for.
“So that there’s not a separation between workers and owners,” she said. “I am absolutely an advocate for that.”
She encourages people to talk with her about the meaning of socialism and some take her up on it. Ludwig noticed a particular stigma for the word “socialism,” as many people supported her concepts on face value but immediately shut down when they heard the “magic word.”
“People wouldn’t know what to do because it’s been used as a slur for so long in Wyoming politics,” she said. “Sometimes it actually opened up the door to have really interesting conversations with people.
“What socialism actually is really resonated with people in the state.”
Certain people, she found, couldn’t wrap their head around what socialism is, which she found as evidence of capitalism’s deep entrenched presence within the American psyche.
But Ludwig isn’t completely removed from capitalism herself these days.
She is now the executive director of a nonprofit organization in Oregon that supports local farms and food makers. According to her website, she charges up to $5,000 a day for training and consulting work.
Wyoming No More
Ludwig said the primary reason the socialist commune is selling the home is because of the fluctuation of residents, but also because Laramie and Wyoming has proven to be a difficult place to set up roots.
This past summer, Ludwig ended her five-year journey in Wyoming and moved to the coast of Oregon. She said the lack of job opportunities within her social justice and sustainability fields in Wyoming were the biggest reason for her departure.
Also a consideration was the state’s politics.
“I gave a lot to Wyoming and at some point I felt like I don’t have anything left to give,” she said. “I was kind of burned out on trying to build the type of community I wanted to build there. I think I burned out.”
In a recent interview, state Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, who is a lesbian, gave a similar reason for her departure from the Legislature and Wyoming, saying she wants to move to a state where she feels like she has equal rights.
A Hostile Climate
Ludwig mentioned a recent incident at the University of Wyoming where a church elder displayed a sign on campus, singling out by name a transgender sorority member who he called a man, as an example of the types of anti-LGBTQ hostility collective members have faced.
“That kind of very public hostility to folks who are different in any way,” she said.
Although she said she has no plans to move back to the state in the future, Ludwig said she holds no ill will against Wyoming or its residents.
“Some of my favorite people are born in Wyoming,” she said. “I just have a ton of respect for people who are more oriented toward human rights and caring for the environment in a real way, not just kind of a performative way. They end up leaving or they end up feeling really alienated.”