CHEYENNE – In May 2016, lobbyist and mayoral candidate Marian Orr added a page to her campaign website titled: “Why Cheyenne needs a non-discrimination ordinance.”
In the paragraphs that followed, she proudly recalled her 2013 work for the Human Rights Campaign, when she pushed a bill in the Wyoming Legislature to protect LGBTQ residents from discrimination. She said doing so made it that much easier when her daughter came out as gay a year later.
The final passage left no doubt where she stood on protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people: “… no longer can a person be fired for being gay. It’s shocking that they can right now. It’s wrong. And we need to put protections in place to stop this.”
A year and a half into her first term, however, no such ordinance has even been introduced. She asked sponsors to delay one last year with a Supreme Court decision looming, and a narrow result left the council divided again this year.
But as the issue rises in perceived importance to diversifying the state’s economy, Orr seems ready to get back into the arena.
In interviews this week, she said she planned to lobby again, this time on behalf of the city, for a state law protecting LGBTQ residents.
“I would love to work at finding key sponsors,” she said, “and I would certainly testify and lobby as the Capital City of the Equality State for the state to pass such law.”
She added that if the Legislature rejected the idea, as it has in previous years, she would be open to bringing an ordinance before council after the 2019 general session.
It wasn’t immediately clear how either tactic would play moving forward.
Supportive legislators like Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said the details of a forthcoming bill weren’t yet set.
And in interviews, Cheyenne City Council members offer only tentative assurances they would take an ordinance up after the legislative session.
But Sara Burlingame, executive director of advocacy group Wyoming Equality and a Democratic candidate for a Laramie County seat in the state House of Representatives, was pleased to hear Orr was taking the initiative.
“She got us as close as anybody ever has,” she said, referring to Orr’s previous lobbying work.
“She has an actual record on effectiveness in speaking on behalf of fairness for all Wyomingites. So if the mayor’s saying she’s willing to go to the state and articulate the difficulty of the patchwork of municipal ordinances and call on legislators to do something about it, I have nothing but support for the mayor in doing that,” Burlingame said.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, a Cheyenne Republican who has previously co-sponsored anti-discrimination bills, agreed.
“The bill can use all the help from cities and towns it can get,” he said.
Zwonitzer also noted that the Senate passed a bill in 2015, and the House that killed it looked friendlier than ever heading into 2019.
There’s also more and more talk about the idea’s importance to economic diversification, the talk of state politics since the last energy bust two years ago.
Two members of Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW economic diversification council said at a meeting last month that research indicated an anti-discrimination law would have a “high impact” on attracting new skilled workers to the state.
And while some, like Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce CEO Dale Steenbergen, don’t see a law as a necessity for attracting new business, Eric Trowbridge, the 33-year-old who runs The Array School of Technology and Design downtown, vehemently disagreed.
He said the first question a New York programmer he tried to recruit for his position asked in their interview was about the LGBTQ community.
“Immediately, it was a big deal for him that there be a community here that was going to be able to support him and he wasn’t going to be discriminated against,” Trowbridge said.
“We are known as the state that killed Matthew Shepard,” he said, referring to the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was beaten, tied to a fence post and left for dead in Laramie nearly 20 years ago. “We have a massive perception and marketing issue that we need to address.”
If Wyoming passed such a law, it would join more than a third of states, including Colorado and Utah, with similar rules on the books. Laramie and Jackson are the lone Wyoming cities with non-discrimination ordinances. Cheyenne, Casper, Douglas and Gillette have all passed non-binding resolutions in support of equality.