CHEYENNE – In the wake of mounting criticism, state Sen. Lynn Hutchings released a statement Tuesday afternoon defending comments she made to a group of Cheyenne students lobbying for a bill to protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
But while saying it was unfortunate her remarks didn’t come across as intended, Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, offered no apology and instead said the story was fabricated and untruthful.
A request for clarification on her statement, made through a Republican spokesperson, was not responded to as of press time.
In her Tuesday statement, Hutchings said her Feb. 1 comments to the local high school students were only meant to be rhetorical questions to help illustrate what she described as the vagueness and uncertainty of sexual orientation.
“It is unfortunate, but I now recognize that my attempts at meaningful dialogue on this specific issue did not come across as I intended. I believe I treated these students kindly,” Hutchings said in her statement. “I want to make it clear that my conversation was not intended to demean these students. I at no time compared homosexuality with bestiality or pedophilia. That never happened.”
According to officials with Wyoming Equality, a Cheyenne-based civil rights group, Hutchings told 10 students from the Gay-Straight Alliance at Cheyenne’s Central High, “If my sexual orientation was to have sex with all of the men in there and I had sex with all of the women in there and then they brought their children and I had sex with all of them and then brought their dogs in and I had sex with them, should I be protected for my sexual orientation?”
In response to Hutchings’ statement, which characterized the conversation with students as cordial and ending “with fist bumps all around,” Wyoming Equality board member Shayna Lonoaea-Alexander said the students did feel attacked by Hutchings’ comparisons of LGBTQ protections to protections for pedophilia and bestiality.
Some of the students told Hutchings when the conversation started that they were LGBTQ. And when the conversation ended, Lonoaea-Alexander said Hutchings hugged and fist-bumped one of the students, which was inappropriate, especially given the content of Hutchings’ remarks.
“It is entirely inappropriate to make those comments, especially to a group of high school students,” Lonoaea-Alexander said.
The conversation with Hutchings wasn’t the only one the group of students had Feb. 1 with lawmakers who were on the other side of the issue, Lonoaea-Alexander said.
But those conversations were conducted by lawmakers in a cordial and respectful manner, and at no time did students feel attacked for who they are and how they identified.
“This is, honestly, about fairness, respect and dignity and what can we expect from each other, and what we can expect from our elected officials,” Lonoaea-Alexander said.
Wyoming Equality sent a letter dated Feb. 4 to Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, objecting to the comments. Senate leaders said Monday they take the complaint seriously and will conduct an investigation, which will not be public.
“In Wyoming, we believe in respect, civility and compassion,” the GOP legislative leaders’ statement read. “Here in the Wyoming Legislature, it is no different. We take the concerns raised on behalf of these students very seriously. Absolutely no one should be made to feel dismissed, disrespected or degraded.”
Hutchings went on to say in her statement that the story has been one-sided and fabricated, but didn’t specify what was made up. She also issued a call to arms for the state’s business community to be outraged at the negative attention as “another untruth is spread across the country” about Wyoming.
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle tried to interview Hutchings on Monday, but was told she wouldn’t comment on the issue.
Hutchings also said in the Tuesday statement that she has been subjected to racial slurs, profanity and threats since her comments became public.
“I will always guard a person’s ability to freely make choices regarding their lives. I respect the rights of everyone to make choices freely. However, with this freedom comes the responsibility to tolerate those with different views and opinions,” Hutchings said in the statement.
“That is especially true in the Legislature, which must be a place where we come together to debate real-life ideas, some we agree with, some we do not.
“For all of us, including myself, this situation provides a learning opportunity for us to find better ways to discuss these issues in a respectful manner, while also extending grace to one another when we say things inartfully.”
Wyoming Democratic Party spokeswoman Nina Hebert said a letter sent to party members asking them to call Hutchings about her comments explicitly directed them to use respectful language and not engage in any hateful speech.
Hebert said as far as Hutchings’ statement about the untruthfulness of reporting on her comments to students, the senator didn’t deny the account of the four questions she asked the students.
Lonoaea-Alexander said Wyoming Equality unequivocally condemned any threats or racially motivated comments Hutchings may have received since this story broke.
Hutchings’ statement Tuesday comes in the wake of both statewide and now national news coverage. The New York Daily News ran a story on the issue over the weekend, and on Tuesday, NBC carried a story on its national website.
Hutchings faced a call for her resignation Monday from the Wyoming Democratic Party. And the party isn’t letting up on the issue, working to focus attention on previous statements Hutchings has made on issues related to Wyoming’s LGBTQ population.
The Wyoming Democratic Party released a batch of emails and statements made by Hutchings during a debate in 2015 by the Cheyenne City Council on a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBTQ residents.
Former Councilwoman Annette Williams had proposed the ordinance in 2015, and in a statement Tuesday, she said Hutchings had first asked for her recusal from voting on her ordinance, then asked City Council to prevent Williams from voting on the issue.
By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange