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Pandemic Exacerbates Disparities For LGBTQ Wyomingites Without Support Or Legal Protections


The pandemic has highlighted who has support and who doesn't. Wyoming Public Radio's Maggie Mullen spoke with Wyoming State Representative and Executive Director of Wyoming Equality's Sara Burlingame about what life looks like for many LGBTQ folks across the state. Burlingame said if you've got things like a job, family support, and acceptance in your community, you might be doing ok right now, and hunkering down like a lot of your neighbors.

Sara Burlingame: But if you're not, if you're a teenager who's now at home with their parents who, perhaps violently opposed to your sexuality or your gender expression. If you worked in food service where your presence as a trans person was just kind of tolerated, you're on the lowest rung of the ladder, right? And those are the folks—the folks who don't have that support, who don't have protections—they're the ones who've just been hit the hardest right now. Those are the ones that I think, what resources can we get to them? Like how can we help encourage them to just hold on, get through this. There's a sunrise on the other side. There's a little bit of terror behind that though because health disparities are exacerbated by pandemics. And our Two Spirit friends on the Wind River Reservation, it's not a good scene right now. And there's not enough support, there's not enough resources, and we just worry about them. It's definitely given us like a resolve, when this crisis has passed, just how important it is to fight for policies that bring [...] that narrow that gap and disparities, to make sure that we pass non-discrimination, we have job protection, that we have housing protections. That's going to be more important than ever.

Maggie Mullen: So for those people that are feeling those impacts in a really particular way, what kind of resources are available to them? What does that picture look like in Wyoming?

SB: Yesterday, a really nice man who happens to be transgender reached out to me. He needed an attorney because as a transgender male in Wyoming, he is thinking two steps ahead and saying, if he does have to be hospitalized, if he does get this coronavirus, then he needs some special paperwork from an attorney to make sure that his wife has full privileges at the hospital, so that he has access. Like that's one of the little things that I think most people aren't thinking of. And if you're straight, and you're worried about your vulnerability, and if you might be hospitalized, it probably wouldn't occur to you, that your neighbor, you know, who's trans or gay, might have some hesitation about what does that look like for me if I have to be hospitalized. I mean, the good news is hospitals like Cheyenne Regional, they've really stepped up and they're really working to come into better compliance with health equity. And some hospitals around the state are doing that, but not all of them and so it's just another level of insecurity. Wyoming Equality doesn't do any direct services. We advocate, we help with policy, we help with community organizing and things. But we're not a direct services organization. But we have a very small crisis fund. That's just, you know, somebody has an emergency and needs some help, it's there to kick in, like a little bit of money. But we just came out and said, "We'd like to deplete our emergency, our crisis fund immediately.

If you need it, please ask, we'd like to help." And that's the thing about Wyoming, right? Like whether you're straight or you're a member of the LGBTQ population, you're still a stubborn Wyomingite. And like we put it out there on like multiple venues, and nobody was asking us. And meanwhile, I was seeing folks that I knew online, like say, "Hey, can I do some work for you? Can I do something, like I need to raise money?" And so we would reach out to these people, say, like, "We have crisis money for you, can we give it to you?" And every single person I reached out to said, "Oh, that's for somebody who really needs it. I don't want to take it. You know, I'll figure it out, like I'll work with my landlord, or I'll do something." It's for you. We had to really work to get people to accept it. Which, you know, probably shouldn't surprise us. Stubborn Wyomingites. I don't think it matters, like who you go home and sleep with—at the beginning and the end of the day, you're a Wyomingite and it's hard for us to accept help. [We're] So used to, like, doing it on our own

MM: Or, being the helper.

SB: Oh yeah, no, every single one of these people, like, that's what we have to tell them. You help everybody, you are so generous, like every single person who we have reached out to, I know them because they're organizing and giving in their community.

MM: And for folks that hear this and feel like okay, what can I do to help? Do you have any directions or places to point them?

SB: Yeah, I mean, if your town does not have a non-discrimination ordinance, get a hold of us, we'd like to help you. If you'd like to help out with a statewide, you know, in the legislature non-discrimination ordinance, contact us. WyomingEquality.org. Find us on Facebook. If you want to be a part of that, because you recognize it's important, we'd love to have you. And also just consider yourself formally invited by Sara Burlingame, the executive director of Wyoming Equality, to go bake a casserole, to drop it off on the doorstep of someone in your community. Whether they're lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or just an ally, make a casserole, drop it off. Be part of this movement. Yeah, you're invited.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.

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