A Laramie church elder who lost presentation privileges at the University of Wyoming in December now is suing the university’s president and dean of student affairs, alleging they violated his free-speech, equal protection and due process rights.
Todd Schmidt, an elder at Laramie Faith Community Church, set up a table at the UW Union breezeway on Dec. 2 displaying a sign that read, “God created male and female and Artemis Langford is a male.”
Langford is the first transgender inductee into the Wyoming chapter of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.
Ryan O’Neil, University of Wyoming dean of students, reportedly asked Schmidt to cover Langford’s name on the sign. Schmidt then remained at his table with a blank space on the sign where Langford’s name had been.
Days later, O’Neil sent Schmidt a letter revoking his tabling privileges until the 2024 spring semester.
A Legal Response
Schmidt sued UW President Ed Seidel in his official capacity, and dean of students Ryan O’Neil, in her official and individual capacities, Thursday in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.
Officials censored his right to free speech under the First Amendment and continue to do so through the one-year tabling ban.
The officials violated his due-process rights by applying UW policy to Schmidt in what he calls a vague manner.
He’s being denied equal protection by stifling his expression based on his viewpoint.
The elder is asking for nominal damages, which are small amounts of money primarily meant to signify a plaintiff’s victory. He’s also asking the court to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions against Seidel and O’Neil, to declare Schmidt’s position correct and to declare UW’s action a violation of First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights.
Schmidt is also asking the court to award to him the costs and expenses of his lawsuit and any other relief the court deems just.
UW declined to comment Friday.
First, The News
Schmidt’s legal complaint recalls the events from his perspective.
Langford campaigned for entry into the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority starting in August and was inducted following a September vote.
UW’s student paper The Branding Iron ran a story on Langford’s induction, quoting the new sorority member.
“I feel so glad to be in a place that I think not only shares my values, but to be in a sisterhood of awesome women that want to make history,” Langford told the paper. “They want to break the glass ceiling, trailblazing you know, and I certainly feel that as their first trans member.”
Cowboy State Daily and other news outlets also reported the story.
Schmidt first heard of the controversy on a Nov. 3 podcast, the Markey, van Camp and Robbins show, his complaint says.
“Schmidt was shocked by the news,” reads his complaint. “He did not know a transgendered individual, an individual he considered a male, could be eligible to join a sorority consisting of females. He could not believe this kind of thing was happening at UW, his home university.”
The complaint says Schmidt disagreed with the decision, deeming it “unwise and unsafe” for the other sorority sisters.
“Langford largely appeared as a male, not as a female,” reads the complaint. “Langford’s size, standing 6’2 and weighing approximately 260 pounds, indicated Langford is a male, as did the facial hair that Langford frequently exhibited.”
It’s a complaint that six sorority sisters make in their own federal lawsuit, filed in March, accusing Kappa Kappa Gamma of breach of contract for inducting a male.
The sorority sisters’ lawsuit also is ongoing.
To The Tables
Schmidt engaged and evangelized UW students from his UW Union table for about 17 years. He had a reader board sign he’d fix to the front of the table. He used the sign to display varying “provocative” and “thought-provoking” messages to start conversations with students, the complaint says.
He hopes his signs will bring people to God.
After thinking and praying about Langford’s induction, says Schmidt’s complaint, the church elder decided to address it on his sign.
“He wanted to use a catchy phrase that could grab students’ attention and lead to reasonable and friendly exchanges about this latest controversy at UW,” the complaint says, claiming that Schmidt wasn’t trying to target Langford or offend people.
‘I Don’t Know About This’
But after 15 minutes of display, a group of students clustered in front of Schmidt’s sign to block it, telling Schmidt it was inappropriate.
Other students who supported Schmidt’s message visited his table too, the complaint claims, including one female student who thanked him for taking a stand on the issue, and a male student who said many sorority members were afraid to speak out.
Another 15 minutes into the display, UW dean of students Ryan O’Neil approached the table and asked to talk to Schmidt.
“I don’t know about this,” O’Neil said of the sign, according to Schmidt’s complaint.
She reportedly said she’d get back to him about it.
Another 20 minutes passed.
O’Neil came back bearing a copy of the UW Union policies. Article II section 2.B.4 of that document says the college can deny tabling requests for conflict with the mission of the university or the Union, or historic negligence or abuse.
“We seek to … nurture an environment that values and manifests diversity,” reads UW’s mission.
Schmidt’s complaint says he did not know how his sign contravened the UW mission, and O’Neil did not elaborate.
Schmidt covered Langford’s name at O’Neil’s insistence. She allegedly told him she’d call police if he did not.
Into A Conversation
Schmidt had plans to come back to the Union the next Friday, for which he’d reserved a place in advance.
But Seidel on Monday morning, Dec. 5, sent out a campus-wide message titled, “We’re Responding to Incidents of Concern.”
The letter addressed Schmidt’s tabling incident and what the complaint calls “a couple of unrelated matters” involving UW students mocking LGBTQ-related flags and artwork on campus.
Seidel said Schmidt had “heated exchanges” with students and others, but officials hadn’t observed an obvious violation of UW policies.
Officials would take action if they discovered further violations, the letter said.
Schmidt’s complaint said he couldn’t recall any heated exchanges during his tabling incident.
Seidel’s letter condemned the sign’s personal nature toward Langford.
“An approach of respect and integrity,” wrote Seidel, “is about calling people into a conversation as opposed to calling people out.”
Schmidt’s lawsuit, counters, claiming his sign was intended to call people into a conversation in the same way Seidel later urged.
See You Next Year
The Associated Students of the University of Wyoming (ASUW) in a formal statement decried Seidel’s message as an inadequate way to handle Schmidt, according to the complaint.
A group of UW alumni sent a Dec. 7 letter “bearing hundreds of signatures,” threatening to withdraw funding and support from the university if Seidel would not bar Schmidt from tabling in the Union.
The letter cited UW policy Article II, 5.B.15, which says the Union won’t tolerate “language or actions that discriminate or harass” protected groups of people.
That same day, O’Neil sent Schmidt a letter revoking his tabling privileges for a year, the complaint says. She cited discrimination and harassment embargoes in the policy, and prior verbal warnings.
Seidel dispatched another campus-wide letter informing the community of the ban.
Harassment’s High Bar
Schmidt’s complaint claims he didn’t harass or discriminate against Langford.
It also claims he didn’t know what O’Neil meant by “multiple verbal warnings” prior, except for two incidents: in 2019 an events office worker reminded Schmidt to stay at his table, and in 2021 the associate director of operations talked with Schmidt about masking and social distancing.
UW policy defines discrimination as happening “when an individual suffers an adverse consequence on the basis of the individual’s Protected Class, including but not limited to failure to be hired or promoted or denial of admission to an academic program.”
Schmidt claims Langford didn’t suffer “adverse consequences” from the sign, and that Schmidt isn’t in a position to affect things such as hiring or admitting Schmidt to programs.
Schmidt’s complaint says UW policy defines “harassment” as conduct that “unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work or academic performance or creates an intimidating or hostile work or educational environment.”
The church elder claims his actions didn’t rise to that level. His lawsuit alleges that UW applied “vague” policies in a way that violated his First and 14th Amendment rights.
Lawmakers Demand A Change
Two days after the ban a large group of Republican state elected and sitting legislators, and Wyoming Secretary of State-elect Chuck Gray, sent a letter to UW officials urging them to reverse course and uphold what they called Schmidt’s right to expression.
House Majority Floor Leader Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, authored a concurring letter hours later.
UW doubled down on its position Dec. 14 via Mike Smith, vice president for Governmental Affairs and Community Engagement, according to Schmidt’s complaint.
Schmidt’s direct reference to Langford, a UW student, was “unacceptable,” the letter reportedly states, and “violated the University’s regulation against harassment of a member of a protect(ed) class.”
In addition to the tabling ban, Schmidt alleges UW is barring him from calling Langford a male “by any means on the UW campus … even though the controversy surrounding Langford rages on.”
The sorority sisters’ lawsuit garnered national attention from Fox News, Megyn Kelly and numerous national media outlets after Cowboy State Daily broke the story in March.
“Langford has made no apparent attempt to maintain a private identity,” says Schmidt’s lawsuit.
Langford is a well-known figure in political circles, and worked this winter as a legislative intern to the Wyoming Legislature for the state Democratic party.
Langford did not immediately respond Friday to a message requesting comment.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.