Students from Cheyenne’s Central High School approached their senator, Republican Lynn Hutchings, because they wanted to lobby for protections against job discrimination based on sexual orientation.

They were confounded when Hutchings seemed to want to talk instead only about pedophilia, bestiality and the act of sex itself, three of the students said.

“I felt very angry because this is not the conversation we came to have at the Legislature,” one 17-year-old student told WyoFile. “We came to talk about a bill.”

The students and members of the Gay-Straight Alliance, a high school club, were participating in “Civics Day” at the Legislature as part of a conference of GSA clubs from across the state. In consultation with Liz Edington, the Central High School teacher who sponsors the students’ club, WyoFile has agreed not to name the students because they are minors.

WyoFile interviewed three students separately, one via phone on Friday evening, one via text message Saturday and a third via phone on Monday. WyoFile confirmed with Edington, who chaperoned the students’ visit, that they were present for the conversation with Hutchings.

Hutchings conflated homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality in the Feb. 1 conversation and offered graphic hypotheticals to illustrate her point, according to the students and Edington.

“It was really upsetting to think that she legitimately equates who I am to people who are pedophiles or commit bestiality,” a 15-year-old member of the group told WyoFile.

The LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality filed a complaint with Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, on Feb. 4 that documented the remarks, then distributed the complaint Friday. The complaint received statewide news coverage over the weekend and was covered by the tabloid the New York Daily News.

In a brief interview in the Senate hallway Monday morning, Hutchings said the story reported over the weekend is not true. Reporters’ negligence had led to her receiving “death threats,” she alleged.

“All weekend long from all over the country people have been calling me,” she said.

“This is vicious,” she said. “It’s life threatening.”

Hutchings declined to interview further about the incident and suggested she would take legal action.

“This has gone legal now,” she said.

The students went to the Senate lobby to speak about House Bill 230 – Enhancing quality employment law. The bill added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected from discrimination in employment practices. House Bill 230 died Feb. 4 when it was not brought up for debate on the House floor before a deadline.

The incident comes in a year that the Legislature’s leadership removed protections for lawmakers, legislative staffers and members of the public based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with all other protected classes, from its internal discrimination and harassment policies.

In Wyoming Equality’s complaint, the group pointed to statistics suggesting that LGBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues in high school. Studies have found LGBTQ youth are five times as likely to contemplate suicide as straight youth, the letter said. GSA clubs exist in part to combat that trend, the letter said.

“We are deeply concerned about the lasting damage Hutchings has inflicted on the GSA students in her district and the reputation she has established for the Wyoming State Legislature,” the group wrote.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide shares articles and receives permission to use news from across the state as part of the Wyoming News Exchange.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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