The Teton County Republican Party has voted to formally endorse an ordinance proposed by the town of Jackson that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The party’s executive committee was unanimous in its support.
“The local Republican Party certainly respects the LGBTQ community, and this was a positive thing the Town Council was doing, so we wanted to make sure the Republican Party voiced their support,” said Keith Gingery, a member of the executive committee.
The town’s proposed discrimination ban falls in line with the local Republican Party’s beliefs, Chairman Paul Vogelheim said. Earlier this year, the local party adopted three pillars that outline its platform, he said.
The change came after party officials realized that local viewpoints don’t line up with the shift toward more extreme views that is occurring at the state and national levels, he said.
Among the new pillars is respect and compassion for individual freedoms, which led to the endorsement of the town’s ordinance. The endorsement has sparked surprise and drawn attention from Vogelheim’s Republican colleagues throughout the state.
“I’m already getting phone calls from other Republicans around the state, but that’s okay,” Vogelheim said.
Moderates in the Republican Party need to find their voice and step up, he said.
“It would be wrong to sit here and think that we as a society would penalize them [LGBTQ community members] and not allow them the opportunities that all of us are enjoying,” Vogelheim said.
Compared with the rest of Wyoming, having a relatively big LGBTQ community in Teton County may have contributed to the decision, Gingery said.
“We know them in our daily lives, so we know they’re no different than us,” he said. “They’re our friends; our children play with their children. A lot of times that’s what breaks down barriers.”
Last week the town passed the ordinance on a first reading. Two further readings are required before it becomes law. The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in public establishments and when offering employment or housing.
The ordinance also offers people insurance that complaints against offenders will not lead to retaliation.
In the case of a violation the ordinance would give people 90 days to petition the town. An “investigator” would then be assigned to look into the charge, and if a violation was found to have occurred, the offender could receive a fine of up to $750 a day.
At the June 18 Town Council meeting, 19 people took the microphone to comment on the measure. Fourteen spoke in favor of it, and five spoke against.
Opposition to the ordinance was primarily on the grounds that it would be an overstep by the government and an infringement on First Amendment religious freedoms.
Many of the speakers thanked the council for standing up for LGBTQ citizens. The council members also spoke in support of the ordinance and unanimously agreed to pass the ordinance through the first reading.
The ordinance would make Jackson the second community in Wyoming, after Laramie, to pass legislation criminalizing this type of discrimination.
“We’re joining the town, and we’re supportive of the spirit of the ordinance, not just the letter of the law,” said Tote Turner, a member of the executive committee. “This is right in line with how our local Republican Party feels.”