Rodger McDaniel FILE

Rodger McDaniel

When it was revealed that the Cheyenne biker bar, the Eagle’s Nest, was promoting violence against gays and lesbians and people suffering from HIV/AIDS, state Rep. Landon Brown loudly condemned the bar. He said he stood in solidarity with those who were the targets of the hate.

In addition to booze, the bar was selling shirts emblazoned with these scurrilous words: “Wyoming: We have a cure for AIDS. We shoot fing fts.” Rep. Brown called the shirt despicable, and it is. Brown went on to say it “does not represent Wyoming in any shape or form.” I’m not so sure of that.

An illusion is not an easy thing to grasp. Illusions are not created overnight. Illusions differ from myth. Myths contain fundamental truths. Illusions deny them.

People with the power to create illusions have a great deal at stake in making them appear to be reality. A great deal of time and money, as well as personal reputations and political fortunes, are expended in creating and maintaining illusions.

When successful, those who create illusions actually come to believe they are real. Indeed, that is what makes them so intransigent and punishing to dispel. Thus, it was as though calling it “The Equality State” in 1890 would made it so eternally.

Soren Kierkegaard, the 17th century Danish poet and theologian, described how difficult it is to challenge illusions once they are fully established. In as much as Mr. Kierkegaard died nearly four decades before Wyoming became a state, he could not have been talking about “The Equality State.” And yet he was.

Kierkegaard found that challenging illusions was risky, if not dangerous. That is especially so when one is not aware she is challenging an illusion until the danger of having done so becomes apparent.

Our state is unable to handle the truth that can be readily experienced in the tension between wanting to be known as “The Equality State” and not actually being “The Equality State.” It’s one of those illusions that Kierkegaard thought difficult to dispel – risky, if not dangerous.

Consider this. At the same time the Eagle’s Nest was promoting violence against those with AIDS, bigots in Gillette were threatening violence against a young transgender woman.

Mikayla Oz is a talented magician from Iowa. She was invited to entertain as part of the Campbell County Library’s summer reading program for children. She has received great reviews for her performances throughout the Midwest and has been featured on “Penn and Teller: Try This at Home,” the Travel Channel’s “Magic Caught on Camera,” and featured in “USA Today” and the “Huffington Post” for her award-winning magic.

Because of that, she was invited to Wyoming to share her talents as a storyteller and comedian. But, her appearance in “The Equality State” had to be canceled the day before she was scheduled to perform.

The library said, “With great regret, regret shared by Campbell County Public Library System, Oz canceled her programs in Gillette and Wright due to safety concerns for herself, library staff and library patrons. Oz’s transgender identity was shared on a social media post made by a Gillette citizen. From there, misinformation about the performances was spread via social media, and a call to protest the events was made by a group of citizens. The cancellation came after threats were made directly to Oz and to library staff.”

So it is that children who were excited to see Ms. Oz’ magic and hear her stories learned a hard lesson about The Equality State as they were informed she would not be coming to their town because some adults around them were bigots who threatened to physically harm her and the library staff.

Illusions are indeed risky, if not dangerous, especially when crossing paths with intolerance and intersecting with social media.

It is commendable that Rep. Brown courageously offered his views of Wyoming values. But, we can’t ignore that the Eagle’s Nest and the violent bigots in Gillette are also defining Wyoming values.

Rodger McDaniel lives in Laramie and is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. Email: rmc81448@gmail.com.

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