Eyes welled and voices quavered as the Town Council took a stride Monday toward criminalizing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Jackson.
A handful of people came out to Town Council chambers Monday to pose constitutional and biblical arguments against enacting a town ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor to discriminate in public establishments, or when offering employment or housing. For the council and supporters, the five opponents’ arguments reinforced why Jackson needs to codify its long-avowed intolerance for prejudice against LGBTQ citizens.
“Hearing some comments tonight made me realize how much more we do need it,” Kyra Halls told the council.
“I also want to remind you … you’re not just doing this for the present day,” she said. “You’re doing this for my future. You’re doing this for my friend’s future. You’re doing this for children’s future. This is not just this one-time thing; this is something that will impact me as a person for the rest of my life.”
In his comments before calling for the vote, Jackson Mayor Pete Muldoon made a similar assessment about some of the viewpoints aired by foes of the ordinance.
“Some of the arguments I heard tonight, they were troubling,” Muldoon said. “I’ve heard and I recall similar arguments being made by those who want to continue Jim Crow laws.”
The first reading of the nondiscrimination ordinance attracted a number of people who scolded the proposed municipal ban, dubbing it governmental overreach, an attempt to legislate morality and a requirement to be complicit in lifestyles condemned by the Bible.
Emmanuel Bible Church pastor Tim Moyer made the drive from Thayne to share his views.
“We would just like to register our opposition to the ordinance, because of its abridgment of the conscious rights of individuals to freely practice their faith apart from governmental intrusion,” Moyer said. “Our government has always protected the right of citizens to practice their faith as their conscience dictates.”
David Bott of Redeemer Lutheran Church took a similar stand.
“It is a direct violation of the First Amendment freedoms,” Bott said. “The passage of these laws are regularly used against Christians in the peaceful expression of their faith.”
Moyer and Bott were in the minority among the 19 Jackson Hole residents and visitors who spoke. Many members of the public thanked the council for standing up for people who have been disenfranchised for much of Wyoming and American history.
“2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the well-known murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard; it is also the second anniversary of the lesser-known suicide of 20-year-old Gillette native Trevor O’Brien,” writer and actor Andrew Munz said. “It is important to remember that Matthew, Trevor and countless others around Wyoming, neighboring states, the country and the world have endured discrimination and hardships as a result of a culture that states heterosexuality is the default and anyone who steps outside of those lines deserves to be seen as different.
“I believe that this ordinance is a clear opportunity to flip the script,” Munz said, “and say the only default the community should promote is acceptance without limitations.”
The ordinance would make Jackson the second community in Wyoming, after Laramie, to criminalize discrimination. Casper, Sheridan, Gillette and Cheyenne have similar non-legally binding anti-discrimination resolutions, as Jackson has had since 2015.
“It is declared to be among the civil rights of the people of the town of Jackson, Wyoming, to be free from discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment,” the ordinance reads, “and for it to be contrary to the policy of the town and unlawful to discriminate against any person because of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in places of housing, public accommodation and employment.”
The ordinance also condemns and criminalizes retaliation against those who file complaints.
As written the ordinance would adjudicate complaints by giving people 90 days to petition the town about a violation. An “investigator” would then be assigned, and if an offense is found it could result in a fine of up to $750 daily.
Councilor Don Frank told the council chambers his hope is that the ordinance is never needed.
“There’s a difference between the freedom of your belief and an opportunity to impose your belief on someone else,” Frank said. “I don’t think renting an apartment to someone who has a different belief system than you do is complicity at all. It’s simply respect.”
The balance of the council was similarly supportive.
Councilor Jim Stanford jotted down a phrase from the Rev. Inger Hanson’s public comment in which the Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church pastor paraphrased the Book of Ezekiel about God’s vision for community, where shrubs should bear fruit so every kind of bird can live under them.
Stanford vowed “with no equivocation” that he favors “equal protection under the law for winged creatures of every kind.”
Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson explained her vote of support as a moral decision, using the word that Community Bible Church Pastor Don Landis used to argue against the ordinance.
“For me, I’m morally choosing to have a more inclusive community,” Morton Levinson said. “I think about the parents, and being a new mom. I hope that in 20 years that my kids don’t have to worry about discrimination for whoever they are, and I hope that this step today helps that.”
The ordinance passed its first reading unanimously. It has two more readings to go before it becomes law.
This story was edited online to correct the spelling of Kyra Halls. — Eds.