Wyoming Alaska and are the only two states with moderate policy approaches to transgender issues, a nationally recognized researcher and transgender activist says.
“Both of these states have proposed anti-trans policies, but both have also shown little appetite to even touch (them),” reads a thorough analysis by Erin Reed, a transgender news and history writer who is based in Montana.
Wyoming passed a ban on male transgender competition in female school sports from grades 7-12 in March, despite the verbal objection of Republican Gov. Mark Gordon, who condemned the bill as draconian but chose not to veto it.
Reed credited activists in the state for the failure of other proposed laws, like a ban on transgender-related medical treatments for kids and a ban on transgender-related teaching in grades kindergarten through third.
“Wyoming activists entirely beat back all anti-trans laws except for a sports ban,” wrote Reed.
Two Democratic Wyoming lawmakers and one moderate Republican told Cowboy State Daily the state’s unique moderation is due to a quiet, moderate-conservative majority. This despite the state, per capita, being one of the politically reddest in the U.S.
A socially conservative Republican legislative delegate, however, said conservative Wyomingites have not been as aware of the issues as they are now becoming and will soon push for tougher policies on transgender issues.
Everything In Moderation
Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, sponsored and passed the sports ban, Senate File 133. But she also included a second option if courts declare the ban unconstitutional — enacting a panel to review participation appeals on a case-by-case basis.
Schuler said she sought feedback from both sides and believes most Wyomingites are “reasonable” and listen to both political sides.
The state has a supermajority of Republican voters, with 70% backing Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. But that doesn’t mean all 70% are far-right thinkers, Schuler said.
“I have a pretty good feeling for what the folks in our community and our county want, and I don’t think they all believe what we’re hearing from the screeching corner of the far, far right,” said Schuler. “I think we still have a number of us in the Legislature that think like me. I believe that’s why we still have a majority in the House and Senate both that are really commonsense Republicans.”
Democratic Minority Floor Leader Rep. Mike Yin, of Jackson, and Rep. Ken Chestek, D-Laramie, agreed that most Wyomingites are “live-and-let-live” voters.
“The reputation of the state as a conservative state is not all that well-deserved,” said Chestek.
He’s one of only seven Democratic members of the 93-person state Legislature, meaning Republicans have a supermajority of 86 lawmakers, or 92%.
“If you look at the numbers of Republicans versus Democrats you think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the most conservative Legislature in the country,’” Chestek said. “But it’s not really, because a lot of the Republicans do have more moderate views.”
Chestek and Yin, like Schuler, said this temperance accurately reflects the state’s voters. That translates in Reed’s analysis of LGBTQ-friendly states, showing Wyoming isn’t the least friendly to transgender activists’ wishes.
“Wyoming has always been a live-and-let-live state,” said Yin, “I hope it can stay that way.”
Look Out For Change
But House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, said change is imminent.
Neiman also diverged from the other delegates’ ideas about the character of Wyoming voters, saying voters have simply been late to push for tougher laws because they’ve been unaware of some of the related issues — until now.
He cited a couple’s parental-rights lawsuit against Sweetwater County School District No. 1 alleging the district’s policies require teachers to lie to parents about kids’ alternate pronouns.
“People are very upset about that. I don’t think (the lack of laws) really reflects what people want,” Neiman said. “But I just see that changing. You’re not going to see Wyoming be this moderate anymore; people are very frustrated and growing more aware of the things that are going on.”
Neiman said the failed bills restricting transgender treatment for kids and LGBTQ teaching in schools were not intended to oppress people, but to protect kids. “Let them figure out their own bodies before we start chopping them up or putting hormones in them,” he said. “I get tired of society saying to kids, ‘You’re not good enough. You need to be different, you need to change something. It breaks my heart.”
Schuler, like Neiman, expects a rightward shift in the 2024 legislative elections, but she attributes her prediction to the hardline social-conservative delegates’ efforts to recruit more candidates like themselves.
Don’t Even Fly Through Florida
Alaska pursued bills addressing transgender issues in schools, Reed’s analysis says, but the state has avoided what the writer called “the worst legislation” — bans on some drag shows and medical procedures.
Florida, meanwhile, is the only blackened state on Reed’s map, with its own “Do Not Travel” advisory.
Transgender people shouldn’t even take a connecting flight through Florida, Reed wrote, because of a misdemeanor criminal ban on using the bathroom aligning with their transgender identity.
In addition to being a news writer, Reed also is engaged to Montana's first transgender legislator, Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula.
Blue Lawmakers’ Game Plan
States like Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland and Washington have passed protections for transgender people and state health care policies covering surgeries “that often go uncovered in other states,” wrote Reed. These states also have Democratic legislative majorities.
Yin and Chestek were both hesitant to talk strategy and their own prospects of advancing protections in the Wyoming Legislature.
“I don’t think I necessarily have anything to say on that at the moment,” said Yin.
It would be unwise to focus on social issues in 2024 anyway, he added, since the upcoming session is a shorter budget session for allocating money.
“We have very little time to work on things and trying to deal with national issues when we have a lot of Wyoming-specific issues becomes very difficult,” said Yin.
He said some of those issues are housing, property tax reform and economic development.
Chestek didn’t offer a plan for transgender issues or protections, but said he’s working to make county-wide offices like treasurer and clerk nonpartisan as part of a general shift toward “mak(ing) sure everybody’s voice is heard.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.