TORRINGTON — Bowing to public pressure, the Eastern Wyoming College Board of Trustees on has pulled from consideration and effectively killed two policy proposals that would have addressed equality issues for transgender students, faculty and staff.
By unanimous vote during its May 8 meeting, acting on the recommendation of EWC President Dr. Lesley Travers, the board declined to consider a third reading of the proposed policies and removed them from the set agenda for the meeting.
The recommendation and vote came following public hearings on the proposals, Board Policy 3.27 Transgender Employee Policy and Board Policy 5.14 Transgender Student-Athlete Participation.
The board room on campus was standing-room only with residents, religious leaders and politicians flocking to the meeting from around the EWC service area. One count, provided by the group, indicated as many as 120 individuals made the pilgrimage to EWC on Tuesday to express their opposition to the proposed policies.
Originally introduced in March, the policies would have ensured equality in employment practices for faculty and staff, regardless of gender identity, as well as protecting the privacy of individuals who identify as transgender.
For students, they would have established a gender-neutral housing option as well as setting guidelines for transgender student’s participation in athletic teams in “intercollegiate, club and intramural sports.”
Those guidelines would have also been extended to individuals attending and participating in activities at EWC.
Steve Davis, who said he lives between Lingle and Fort Laramie, told trustees he’d “experienced a lot of homosexual activity” when he was in the Army and stationed in West Virginia in the late 1960s.
“It was a very evil, wicked environment,” Davis said. After serving a year in Vietnam, he was reassigned to the West Virginia area and “spent some time there experiencing difficulties,” he said.
Davis was not alone in his comments. About 20 individuals from the group spoke to the trustees, addressing concerns ranging from what some called the “politicization” of the issue to potential legal ramifications to objections based on religious grounds.
“We are all gathered here today because we care about the same things – families, neighbors, students, the community and Eastern Wyoming College,” said Wyoming Rep. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle). “(The policies are) inconsistent with community values, which makes them at odds with EWC board policy. They needlessly increase the potential for litigation.”
Steinmetz noted that neither the Wyoming Legislature or the U.S. Congress have adopted laws including transgender people as a group protected under anti-discrimination laws.
Asserting that’s what the policy proposals would have done upon their adoption, she said she believes the trustees would be overstepping their authority should they proceed with approval.
“The authority to designate uniform laws, including protected classifications, clearly lies with the legislature,” Steinmetz said. “It is outside the scope of the jurisdiction (of the board of trustees) to designate new, protected classes, especially because they’re not recognized at the state level. The proposed transgender policies are inconsistent with old-fashioned community values.”
Some who spoke in opposition to the policies claimed they would open the door to nefarious actions by men who would take advantage of the policies to lay in wait in bathrooms or locker rooms to assault women and girls.
“My granddaughter had barely turned 14 before she started taking college courses” through EWC, said Kathy Russell of Douglas. “If she had walked into a bathroom and saw a male there, it would not be a good thing. It’s her privacy rights that are at issue.”
And some objected purely on religious grounds, including Kelly Sittner, who said that, “from a Christian perspective, all blessings extend from God and You’re poking him in the eye.
“If you pass this policy, you will lose those blessings going forward,” Sittner said, citing the state’s affirmation of gay marriage in 2014.
“When the state of Wyoming accepted gay marriage, within 90 days, we saw the lowest coal prices we’ve ever seen,” Sittner said.