ROCK SPRINGS — A former legislator is urging LGBTQ Wyomingites and their supporters to contact Gov. Mark Gordon about a bill that passed the House and Senate during the 2023 general session.
Rock Springs resident Chad Banks spoke on bills that were introduced during the recent legislative session and how they could impact LGBTQ communities in Wyoming.
Banks was the keynote speaker March 2 at the regular meeting of PFLAG of Green River, a local nonprofit chapter that supports and advocates for LGBTQ individuals and their families.
Banks served as a Wyoming state legislator from 2020-22 and served three terms on the Rock Springs City Council. He and his longtime partner, Jon, married in 2020. He has three daughters and a new granddaughter.
“It has been 45 years since any anti-LGBT bills have passed in Wyoming,” said Banks, noting that during the 2023 Wyoming legislative session, one out of the six anti-LGBTQ bills passed both chambers.
Senate File 133, “Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Sports,” is on the governor’s desk, awaiting action. The bill would prohibit students who were born male from competing on a team designated for females.
Banks informed members and allies of the LGBTQ community that they can express their concerns by contacting Gordon.
He reached out to Gordon, reminding him of a tweet he had posted regarding LGBTQ rights.
On Dec. 5, 2022, Gordon stated on Twitter, “Targeted attacks on LGBT people and the increasing visibility of anti-Semitism in our country is both deeply concerning and unAmerican. As the Equality State, Wyoming is not — and should not — be a place where bigotry, discrimination and anti-Semitism are tolerated. The Wyoming Constitution speaks clearly and emphatically about civil rights and equality for ‘all members of the human race.’ Tolerance and understanding are essential to the health of our state and our nation.”
“I hope he will veto this bill and stand behind what he said a few months ago,” said Banks. “I would encourage you all to also call the governor’s office and ask him to veto this bill. A veto is hard to overrule.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU has been tracking 336 anti-LGBTQ bills in the United States.
The following bills in Cheyenne died this year: SF 144 — Chloe’s law (Children gender change prohibition); SF 111 Child abuse — change sex; SF 117 — Parental Rights in Education; HB 87 — Crimes of Obscenity, revisions; HB 220 — Prohibiting Pornography in Schools; HB 187 — Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Activities — 2.
Banks pointed out the importance of reading the details of the bills.
“If you read the titles to these bills, such as Prohibiting Pornography in Schools, naturally, we would be supportive of that, but if you read the bill and understand what it really does, you see that it becomes dangerous,” he pointed out. “Those ‘catch titles, sometimes can be a bit misleading in describing what the bill’s actual purpose is.”
Regarding SF 133, Banks said that “this is not good news for trans students and their parents in our state.”
Banks told those in attendance that legislators will be going into interim next month, which is the time between sessions. The Legislature won’t meet until next January, but in the meantime, lawmakers will do a lot of work with committees, talk about topics and make adjustments to bills.
Trans care prohibitions, including adults, have taken effect in Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, Banks mentioned.
Drag performances have been banned in 13 states, and lawmakers have introduced bills seeking to restrict drag performances in Arizona, Kentucky, Texas and Montana.
Banks also manages the Broadway Theater in downtown Rock Springs. Drag performances have been held at the local venue since winter of 2022, as well as at Bunning Hall, which is attached to the URA office.
“They rent that space like anyone else does, such as the GOP, Right to Life, churches and such,” he pointed out. “Shutting down drag performances could keep them out of any space owned by the public.
“It would really hamper their ability to perform and entertain, and their ability to make people feel like they’re part of the community.”
Banks encourages members and allies to follow Wyoming Equality for updates and opportunities to express opinions and share their personal insights. He said that testimonies, whether in an email, in person or via Coom, can have a powerful impact.
“The more your legislators know folks from the LGBT community, the better that is,” he suggested. “Letting them know you’re a real person and who you are in the LGBT community helps. You can invite legislators to discussions and ask them questions regarding their votes — without being hostile, of course, but get the answers you need.”
He added, “It’s not necessarily always a matter of which party is in power, but out of 93 representatives on the state level, only seven are Democrats. All the republicans don’t agree with each other, but getting more moderates is important. Those are the folks that often have our backs.”
By 2025, anti-LGBT bills may find their way back into the Legislature, he said.
“They send a message that ‘We don’t want you here,’” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life and bills like that send me a message that they don’t want me here. This reinforces the idea that Wyoming is not a friendly place for LGBT (people).”
Banks said he believes the bills play a crucial role in population growth and economic diversity in Wyoming.
“It sends a terrible message to tourists, businesses and to people who already live here,” he said. “Our leaders talk about economic diversity and wonder why the kids are leaving. They’re leaving because of these bills, and they haven’t gotten that message yet.”
Banks mentioned that anti-discrimination ordinances or resolutions have been discussed or passed at the city level in Wyoming communities such as Laramie and Jackson Hole.
“Asking our local officials to look at the value of doing that in our communities would send a positive message,” he said.
Rock Springs resident Rosa Pugh, a representative for the Equality State Policy Center, said that she attended the meeting as an ally. She was on-site to provide resources and find out how she can support everyone.
“I think Chad has given these folks hope,” said Pugh. “It was really nice to listen to him.”
Green River resident Mark Branson provides technical assistance to PFLAG.
“The reality is we’re in the era of push-back now,” said Branson. “They’re going to try to stop us, but it will never work. The only thing we can do is stand firm, and, eventually, they’ll slow down and come to their senses.”
Karla Valencia, president of the Green River PFLAG chapter, said she invited Banks to let others know what the laws are in Wyoming, how to advocate for themselves and to let everyone know that they “don’t have to be afraid.”
“I, myself, want visibility,” said Valencia. “The more you’re out there, the more they see you and get used to you, they’ll find out we’re no different than anyone else. Sometimes it takes some guts, but there needs to be visibility, and that’s why I’m doing this.
“Most of us are still hiding. It’s time to come out and be who we are.”