Silent Demonstration on UW Campus Prompted by Harassment of LGBTQ Community

Students brave the cold to protest UW’s response

Around 75 students gathered in the Simpson Plaza outside the Wyoming Union in a silent protest against LGBTQ harassment on Wednesday. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kaycee Clark-Mellott)

By Kaycee Clark-Mellott

Special to the Wyoming Truth

LARAMIE, Wyo.— Amid a stinging 20-degree wind chill, about 75 University of Wyoming (UW) students gathered in Simpson Plaza on Wednesday to silently demonstrate support for the LGBTQ community and protest UW policies in light of recent events across campus. 

On Dec. 2, a local church elder directly named a transgender student in a sign posted at a table in the Wyoming Union. The sign read: “God created male and female” along with a reference to the transgender female UW student being a biological male.

Freshman music perfromance major Sarah Gonda had a painted face with the colors of the LGBTQ flag and a sign which read, “Religion does NOT excuse HATE.” (Wyoming Truth photo by Kaycee Clark-Mellott)

Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil asked Todd Schmidt, an elder with the Laramie Faith Community Church, to remove the student’s name. Schmidt did remove the student’s name; however, he was not removed from the Union and remained at the table until the end of the day.

UW freshman Keely Kidd said the LGBTQ community’s concerns about UW’s response to the incident prompted the protest.

“We were really frustrated with the [UW] President’s message and how there was no outright statement of support for the LGBTQ community,” said Kidd, one of the protest organizers.   

UW President Ed Seidel, along with Vice President for Student Affairs and Interim Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Kim Chestnut, released a statement on Dec. 5  addressed to all students and employees. The statement read: “And while the individual engaged in heated exchanges with students and perhaps others throughout the afternoon, these interactions were not in obvious violation of UW policies.”

The statement added, “The university continues to support creating a climate where all members feel they are welcomed and belong.” 

The statement ended with the suggestion for the UW community to  slow down and “think more about how to engage with others, and live in ways that demonstrate community, integrity, respect, responsibility and social consciousness.”

“I know there were people at two queer events [on campus] last week that decided to harass people, but we purposefully kept explicit information about the protest private,” Kidd said.

Kidd said the demonstration was designed as a silent protest for two reasons:  first to echo UW’s silence to the LGBTQ community “in our own way,” and second to prevent any of the words used at the protest from being twisted from their intentions.  

Freshman UW student, Megan Hollingshead, walks back to the campus dormitories through the silent protest reading many of the signs. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kaycee Clark-Mellott)

An hour into the protest, Seidel issued another statement to students and employees, calling the actions on Dec. 2 a “type of bigotry,” that wouldn’t be tolerated at UW. He also quoted Wyoming Gov. Gordon in his tweet on Monday in regard to attacks on LGBTQ people, “As the Equality State, Wyoming is not — and should not be — a place where bigotry, discrimination and antisemitisms are tolerated.” 

Seidel’s statement about the incident continued: “We have determined that these actions violated the university policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment. Given this, the individual’s privileges to reserve a table in the Union have been suspended for one year.” 

UW junior Antonio Roman, who participated in the protest, feared there could be retaliation, but said he was “willing to take a bullet” for everyone in his community.

Roman, 37, said a one-year ban from tabling was too light of a punishment. His bigger grievance, however, is that Seidel did not attend the protest in support of the community. A self-described “gay, Native American, Latino,” Roman said he hopes UW will become a more welcoming institution for the LGBTQ community.   

On Dec. 6, the Branding Iron, the student newspaper, published an article about UW’s library administration requiring LGBTQ materials to be removed from spaces. After pushback, the administrator told the spaces supervisor that the request was made to avoid offending legislators and donors who may visit the library, according the Branding Iron.

In 1998, UW and Laramie, Wyo. made national headlines following the murder of Matthew Shepard.

Wyoming is also one of the few states without a hate crime law. Kidd believes that, at the bare minimum, “UW, as an institution, needs to implement something on their campus,” and that there “needs to be some hard and fast rule [changes].”

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