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Wind River Pride organizer gives advice on being LGBTQ in Wyoming

2021 wind river pride youth panel
Courtesy of Wind River Pride Facebook
During last year's Wind River Pride, a panel of LGBTQ+ youth addressed the crowd with stories. This year will have a similar panel.

This weekend is Wind River Pride in Lander. Events include a picnic, costume contests, a youth panel, and a drag show. Ariella Kamil is an organizer with Wind River Pride and they talk to Wyoming Public Radio's Taylar Stagner about the importance of pride celebrations in Wyoming.

Ari Kamil: Having a pride celebration here in the middle of Wyoming, it feels like being able to breathe easy. It feels safe and comfortable. It feels like belonging in a place that doesn't always make us feel welcome and cared for and supported. And really, it means being able to express the facets of yourself that we might hide or mask or be very careful with. We're very ginger with our authentic selves when we're presenting in a small town in Wyoming. And pride is just being able to find your community, and let it all loose and be the most genuine, authentic, joyful version of yourself.

Taylar Stagner: Recently, there was a school board vote that took out some words from a nondiscrimination policy. I'm curious, what are you hearing from the community, from the students you work with at the high school?

AK: What we learned from this situation is that it's a dire problem at both the middle school and the high school in Lander. Bullying, harassment, anti-queer sentiment, hateful rhetoric - people are getting harassed constantly, of all ages in all grades. And, I mean, it's a daily issue that they face. And we had a phenomenal rally after the school board decision to eliminate gender and sexual identity from the nondiscrimination clause. And a community of students from the middle school and high school came together and got to speak their truth and say, 'Look, this is happening.'

And then it's also been really, really beautiful and incredible to see these kids come together as a community. And really, just like, the fire has been lit. So there's a lot of organizing happening. A lot of the high schoolers are coming together to create a support system for the middle schoolers and the middle schoolers are working on forming a Speak Club for themselves so that they have a safe place to go.

And we're talking about Wind River Pride, working with the Speak Club, to get educational resources out there and sensitivity training and making sure that everybody has an understanding of what's happening, [and] has the vocabulary and the context to be able to de-escalate situations, to challenge and dismantle the harassment and bullying and subjugation and othering that happens on such a regular basis. So it's been heart wrenching, and also beautiful to watch the kind of community collective care mobilization that is springing out of it.

TS: In what ways could somebody listening help LGBTQ people in Central Wyoming?

AK: Yeah, well, that is a big question. Get involved. Like, check in with your local queer communities, check in with the students at your high school, at your middle school, talk to faculty, see if there's a faculty advisor who works with these kids, and see what's happening and what needs to be done. If that means speaking with your school board, speaking with your local city council, change starts within your own community. So I think this is a really incredible opportunity to say, 'Alright, we see that this is happening, what can we do to help.' And, of course, the people who know what needs to be done are the people who are experiencing the harassment and the bullying.

To me, pride is becoming a person that I always hoped was somewhere inside of me, but that I was never really able to access because I didn't know myself well enough, and I didn't feel secure and comfortable and supported enough to really find them, that person inside of me. Pride means coming home to my body and wanting to exist as I do and feeling confident and loving myself. Pride means envisioning a brighter future. It means knowing what I need to be my best self now, and then trying to figure out how that can be a reality for everybody.

TS: Do you have any words of encouragement for those struggling with their sexual orientation or their gender expression? Any words of advice?

AK: My first piece of advice is don't rush it and be gentle with yourself. There is absolutely no linear path to go on. And there's no right path. One of my main takeaways from my sexuality and gender journey has been that redefining who you are, and finding, like, leveling up and finding your Higher Self breaks conventions. And you're inherently going against the grain and you are defying the systems of conventional cis heteronormativity. And not only is that scary, but it's also really confusing. It's just inherently weird and uncomfortable and hard to understand. So be so patient with yourself. And really, I mean, finding community and finding other folks who are experiencing similar things is so nourishing and nurturing and helpful. So definitely find your people and hold them close.

Always make sure that your needs are met. You can't do any self actualizing if you're not meeting your fundamental needs.

Taylar Dawn Stagner is a central Wyoming rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has degrees in American Studies, a discipline that interrogates the history and culture of America. She was a Native American Journalist Association Fellow in 2019, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her Modern West podcast episode about drag queens in rural spaces in 2021. Stagner is Arapaho and Shoshone.
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