LGBTQ community speaks up for protections, town listens

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Urged by a show of support at Monday’s regular meeting, the town council promised to revisit a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) at the behest of the LGBTQ community in Jackson.

A large portion of the town hall chambers were filled with residents in solidarity in their desire for some sort of protections and assurances from town leaders that they would be kept safe and that they mattered.

Mark Houser led the charge to the podium during public comment set aside for unscheduled town business. Houser heads Jackson Hole PFLAG and the Gay Straight Alliance made up of high school students. Houser spoke in part on behalf of his daughter Britta, who came out at the in 1996 at the age of 13 while attending Jackson Hole Middle School.

Britta Houser’s written statement included, “Imagine those who are struggling in Jackson. While individual support can be impactful, knowing you have the support of your community is even more powerful. You have the opportunity to codify what I know to be true: that the people of Jackson believe no one deserves to be treated unfairly in housing or in work.”

Mark Houser finished by saying ideally civil rights would be protected by federal and state measures but he alluded to a trying time where bigger government has failed to lead the way.

Susan Scarlata shared with the council that she felt she lost out on a job during the interview process once it became known she was gay. Scarlata married her partner, Jody, of nine years in California in 2013. She said she was also the first same-sex couple to officially adopt a child in Teton County.

“A non-discrimination ordinance in Jackson would demonstrate that our town values its LGBT community, and I urge the town council to direct the town’s attorney to take the necessary steps to create such an ordinance,” Scarlata said.

Matt Stech gave testimony to a few occasions where his professional career put him face-to-face with suicidal subjects harassed because of their gender identity or expression. Stech is the former Community Prevention Specialist for Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming (PMO).

“I’ve witnessed attitudes of fear and rejection that have caused harm and suffering,” Stech said.

Town leaders’ reaction

Former Mayor Sara Flitner led an effort to establish an NDO for the town of Jackson in 2015. The measure sputtered, however, after legal concerns and was eventually reduced to a resolution. Since taking office, Mayor Pete Muldoon has expressed a desire to follow up on additional protections or declarations on behalf of the LGBTQ community.

Hailey Morton Levinson said she thinks a few things have changed since the council last discussed an ordinance of some kind, alluding to recently enacted renter protections. “It’s worth looking at again,” she said.

Jim Stanford said, “We have considered this before. Several legal hurdles were identified at the time. After hearing more about undercurrents in our community and in our state, our nation, I think it’s important. We should take another look at it with a broader brush and see if we can’t overcome those hurdles. Defending our community values in a sense and helping people feel they have equal protection under the law and equal standing in the community is important.”

Don Frank called possible NDO action a straight up matter of civil rights. “I’m a steadfast supporter of individual freedom and creative expression in every and any form. I do believe we have certain inalienable rights including life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” Frank said.

Town leaders are expected to discuss the topic further at an upcoming workshop.

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