What’s in a name? If you’re a political group in Wyoming, it seems quite a lot.
Nearly identical names shared by polar opposite political advocacy groups was enough for Nathan Winters to bring the issue up during a mostly unrelated discussion in a Wyoming Legislature interim committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Winters said he needed to explain how his conservative Wyoming Family Alliance group has a much different mission than almost identically named Wyoming Family Alliance for Freedom.
“It has become apparent to us that there are others that are trying to use our name, Wyoming Family Alliance, to say something that is 180 degrees different from Wyoming Family Alliance … (and) where we stand,” Winters, president of the Wyoming Family Alliance, told the Joint Education Committee.
Winters’ political advocacy group takes a social conservative stance on a number of issues like abortion, school choice and removing sexually explicit books from school libraries. Wyoming Family Alliance for Freedom is a more progressive advocacy group that opposes efforts to remove books from school libraries.
The Family Alliance for Freedom helped rally people to the state Capitol on Tuesday to oppose a bill Winters was testifying in support of that would have banned the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grades.
“There may be others that try to misuse our name for their intention, but I just wanted to make you aware that is not us,” Winters warned the committee.
Marcie Kindred, one of the lead organizers for Family Alliance for Freedom, also told the Joint Education Committee her group has no association with Winters’ organization.
“We just happen to have a mutual interest of Wyoming families, and our organization has a focus on freedom,” she told the committee.
The conservative-minded Wyoming Family Alliance began as the Family Policy Alliance of Wyoming, a member of Family Policy Alliance, a political advocacy partner of the evangelical group Focus on the Family. In October 2022, Family Policy Alliance of Wyoming changed its name to Wyoming Family Alliance and became an independent ally of Family Policy Alliance.
“This is something we have invested heavily into — our name — and that name matters to us,” Winters told Cowboy State Daily.
In late May, the Wyoming Families for Freedom group started up. The group was officially formed in anticipation of a highly controversial Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees meeting where the board considered changing its policies for obtaining and distributing books through its library system.
On the day before the meeting June 4, Douglas Cone, husband of a woman who serves as director of operations for Wyoming Family Alliance, registered a business filing with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office under the name “Wyoming Families for Freedom.” This forced the progressive group to change its name.
“We were really bummed. We loved our original name,” said Marcie Kindred, an organizer for Family Alliance for Freedom.
Cone told Cowboy State Daily the similarity of the group’s original name to Wyoming Family Alliance is what drew his concern and inspired him to beat the group to the proverbial punch in registering as an official organization with the state.
“When I found they had not registered their name with the Secretary of State, which is a rookie mistake, I took it upon myself to register the name in an effort to bring awareness of the similarities and hoping the possible malicious nature of their choice would gain some daylight,” he told Cowboy State Daily in an email.
In the filing, Cone offered a business statement much more aligned with the Family Alliance’s stance on books in school libraries than the viewpoint of the group he opposes.
Wyoming Family Alliance for Freedom is now registered with the state.
Kindred said the only consideration her group gave to the similarity of their original name and Winters’ group was that it might put her group at a disadvantage when people search for it online.
A Google search Wednesday morning for “Wyoming Family Alliance for Freedom” returns Winters’ group first at the top of the search, followed by the less conservative Family Alliance for Freedom that was actually being searched for. The Family Alliance still has its previous name in the header and url of its website.
Kindred said the new name is more accurate to the group’s purpose, and members of her group are tired of the word “family” being “co-opted by many who want to define the word so narrowly.”
Jen Solis, another member of the organization, said its use of the word “alliance” is justified because parents around the state reached out to the Cheyenne-based group in support of its efforts shortly after it was formed.
“It was realized that we really are just an alliance of families across the state that really want to stand up for ourselves,” she said.
New Name, More Drama
The less conservative group’s name is now even more similar than the first one Cone originally opposed.
“Unfortunately, that is even closer to Nathan Winters’ organization and, in my opinion, goes to prove their real intent in causing confusion and to generate an unprofessional atmosphere as these two groups fight for the causes each stands for,” Cone said.
Winters said he couldn’t speak to the Family Alliance for Freedom’s motives, “but they’re now becoming clear.”
He also mentioned how the Wyoming Family Alliance Foundation, a subsidiary of his main nonprofit group, shares the same acronym with the Wyoming Family Alliance for Freedom, WFAF.
In a statement to Cowboy State Daily, the Family Alliance for Freedom says the name change was made “after careful consideration and the desire to maintain a connection to our initial identity while accurately reflecting our purpose.”
“We would like to emphasize that no single entity can fully encapsulate the diversity and richness of Wyoming families,” the group says. “Our state is not a monolith. Our aim has always been to represent and support families of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and beliefs.
“Wyoming is a tapestry of various perspectives and lifestyles, and we cherish the fact that our state is home to a multitude of unique families.”
Winters declined to comment when asked whether his group is planning legal action against Wyoming Family Alliance for Freedom.
“One of the things that I’m most concerned about right now is the clear use of our name with a simple addition of another word,” he said.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.