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Creative businesses can now deny service to LGBTQ+ customers. Will Wyomingites be affected?

 A picture of the front of the US Supreme Court, taken from a low angle. A statue of a man sitting is on the center left. The rest is occupied by the white, stone pillared building.
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Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled on 303 Creative vs. Elenis. The landmark decision allows creative businesses to deny service to certain customers, including members of the LGBTQ+ community. The decision also overrules any anti-LGBTQ-discrimination laws, such as those in place in Casper, Laramie, and Jackson, in the case of artistic businesses.

The case was brought to court by Lorie Smith, the founder of Colorado-based web design firm 303 Creative. The court ruled that Smith’s decision to not serve LGBTQ+ community members was protected under the First Amendment, due to her website design practice being considered artistic expression.

Sara Burlingame, the director of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Wyoming Equality, said this decision was made with an urban mindset, which could make it more harmful in rural areas like most of Wyoming.

“This assumption that ‘Look, if you can't find one person who runs a website business in Meeteetse, go to the other person, or the plethora of people, who run this one niche business,’ that is a very urban understanding of what the landscape is,” she said.

However, Burlingame was also optimistic that the decision would not change much in the state.

“Wyoming, I think, has been pretty good about not discriminating,” she said.

She is also hopeful that just because people can deny service, they will not choose to.

“I think if you choose to say, ‘My artistic expression, my website, or anything dealing with the artistic component is for heterosexual people, is for white people, is for a certain kind of Christian’ you can do that, but you really shouldn't,” Burlingame said. “I mean, it's not decent.”

She also pointed to the fact that despite the absence of statewide anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws, there has only been one case of denied service in recent years.

The real problem with this ruling, Burlingame said, is how much fear it creates. She pointed to a case in Natrona County, where a miscommunication caused a gay couple to think they were receiving a “Parody Marriage” certificate instead of a regular one.

“These court decisions and these attempts to strip rights from tax-paying, everyday folks create havoc,” she said.

Burlingame is also worried about where this decision fits in with other events occurring around the state, such as the white nationalist group which disrupted Wind River Pride.

“[As] the white nationalist movement grows and Wyoming’s LGBTQ people become more terrorized, the inevitability of something going catastrophically wrong grows,” she said. “Because we don't have enough people with enough moral courage and leadership stepping forward”

Burlingame hopes that elected officials will take a stronger stance on protecting the LGBTQ+ community before current threats mount into something bigger.

Suraj Singareddy is originally from Atlanta, GA, and is a rising junior at Yale University. He's currently an English major with a minor in computer science. He also helps run the Yale Daily News' podcast department, writes for a science-fiction magazine called Cortex, and likes to do different theatre-y stuff around campus. He also loves to read comics and graphic novels in his free time, and is always looking for book recommendations!
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