Alleged Harassment In Wapiti Raises Questions About LGBTQ Protections
On a crisp late fall afternoon, Colin Monahan and Shannon Lastowski Monahan were about to relax after a nice dinner with friends at their home in Wapiti, about 20 miles west of Cody towards Yellowstone National Park.
"There was a knock on the door. And Colin answered it," recalled Shannon. "I heard some talking, but it was pleasant talking."
Shannon said she thought it was one of their guests who had forgotten something so she went out the kitchen door to their small porch. Her wife, Colin, was surrounded by five neighbors who were allegedly there to talk about a neighborhood covenant issue. One man was someone who had been harassing the couple online in the past. They asked him to leave. And he eventually did. But the rest of the group stayed.
"They semi-circled around the stairway and a woman was next to me," said Shannon. "And Colin asked, 'Why are you harassing us?' The woman said, 'It's because your kind is not welcome here. You pretend to be a man,' pointing to Colin, 'and try to fool people. You are not welcome here, and you need to leave'."
At this point, the couple was scared. They asked everyone in the group to leave multiple times, but Shannon said they didn't move. So she went inside and called the sheriff.
"The deputy picked up the line from 911. And Colin explained our situation and that these persons would not leave our property and were surrounding our entrance," said Shannon. "She held the phone to them and said, 'You're not leaving? Do you want to talk to the deputy?' And it was only then that they very slowly moved away from our property, went in their cars and left."
The experience shook the Monahan's. They moved to Wapiti four years ago from Chicago. Colin said they knew Wyoming is a conservative state and has a different culture.
"But we moved out here because it's beautiful, and we love the mountains," said Colin. "I love hunting, hiking, biking, all the things that people do out here, fishing. And so we've met other people who are also into those things and we do those things together."
They say they didn't really experience any harassment in the beginning but in the past couple of years, the climate, specifically on the Internet, has changed.
"You have a right to have your beliefs, but you can't infringe on other people's lives and their beliefs," said Colin. "So, I think that hate crime legislation would certainly help to deter more of these kinds of events from happening if people knew there were consequences."
Wyoming is one the last states in the nation without a hate crime law. Laramie attorney Linda Devine said that means there's little people can do to defend themselves against such harassment.
"Most of those are simple misdemeanors with a maximum six months jail on a fine," said Devine. "And most judges aren't going to impose a sentence like that. Unless it's been repeated."
As the Monahan's story spread throughout the Cody area, many people commented that Wyoming usually lets people live and let live.
"[The] majority of people want to believe that this is Wyoming, people let you do whatever you want to do, even if you don't agree with them," Devine said. "And I think increasingly, we're seeing that that isn't the case."
Cheyenne State Rep. Sara Burlingame is co-sponsoring a hate crime legislation with Cody Rep. Sandy Newsome in the upcoming general session in January. Some people say such legislation is not needed. Burlingame disagrees.
"The law exists to draw distinctions between types of crime. Homicide is only different from manslaughter, because of what someone's intention is," said Burlingame. "So hate crime just builds into that and says, 'Hey, if you're targeting someone, because of who they are, who they love, where they go to church, what country they were born in, that's a specific type of crime'."
She said this means if her bill was current law, it could've applied to this incident.
"We believe in small government. We believe that it is not our place to police your burdens or your lives, and that everybody should have the same access to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness," said Burlingame.
There has been an outpour of support for the couple in the Cody area. People and businesses are hanging posters with phrases like, "your hate is not welcome" and "equality for all." And while they appreciate the support, the Monahan's said it doesn't erase their fear.
"Shannon can't even look out the window to see who's coming to our house anymore." said Colin. "I have to spend over $1,000 on a security system and probably have to spend over $1,000 on the lawyer fees. So we're the ones now that have to secure our place, look at all of our legal options, work on our mental health because of their incident of hatred. And yet they can get away with this. This really bothers me. It's not fair."
The Park County Sheriff is not commenting as the incident is currently under investigation, so no information has been released. Members of the group accused of harassing the couple have not been publicly identified.