Cowboy Hats And Pride Flags: How One Activist Is Fighting For LGBTQ Rights The Wyoming Way

May 15, 2020


Being gay in Wyoming can be challenging, but LGBTQ activist, and performing artist, Andrew Munz has decided to stay and try to make things better. Wyoming Public Radio's Megan Feighery spoke to Munz about art, activism, and growing up in the cowboy state.

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Andrew Munz: I did not grow up on a ranch. A lot of other people in Wyoming will look at me as somebody who grew up in Jackson and kind of roll their eyes. And in Jackson, there's this sense of wealth and I just did not have that upbringing. My family was very middle class. I couldn't afford to go skiing all the time. I couldn't afford the season pass. There's a lot of things that kind of come with the idea of Jackson life that I really had no part of.

Megan Feighery: So, you never felt like you really fit in.

AM: I grew up gay. And you know, I was living in the closet up until I was 21. And I did have this fear and thought that I did not necessarily belong to the Wyoming lifestyle of hyper masculinity and grit. That wasn't really who I was. And so trying to find your footing in a place like Wyoming was difficult for me. I found ways to express myself.

MF: And that was through acting and comedy. What did those outlets do for you?

Andrew Munz
Credit Cody Boyce

AM: Being up on stage and pretending to be somebody that I wasn't, offered me this chance of escaping the fear that I had growing up. So I found that joy and performance and I haven't stopped. Finding ways to express myself has been the only reason I'm still around. I think if I didn't have those creative outlets, I feel like I would be in a much worse place.

MF: Do you consider yourself an activist?

AM: I do, but it's also an exhausting endeavor to begin. Last year at the Old West days parade, I entered the LGBTQ community as an entry in Jackson's longest running parade and I marched down Broadway with a massive rainbow pride flag and a cowboy hat, and no one asked me to do it. But we did it anyway. And some people's expressions were downturned. Other people were applauding and hollering and for us. The small little things that you can do, you know, it can't always be full legislation change in a small town, you know, sometimes like a small act can resonate with people. And that's been the most honest and meaningful outcome of what I've been able to participate in.

MF: Wyoming doesn't have a good reputation or history when it comes to advocating for or protecting the LGBTQ community. How has this affected you?

AM: When I think about Wyoming's legacy for a lot of people, it kind of boils down to two things. And that's Matthew Shepard and Brokeback Mountain, one of which is this terrible murder, another kind of has been reduced to a joke. For my journey, Matthew Shepard, this stuff occurred when I was 11. And I remember, every fence post I saw was a crime scene. Once you have that fear, it doesn't necessarily go away. It doesn't just vanish. You know, ultimately, it's trauma that you carry. And for myself, I feel good that I was able to at least close the book on this thing that I've been carrying with me a little bit. And now it's kind of like, moving on to laughter and joy. And that's the trajectory that I'm that I'm putting myself on.

MF: And where do you think Wyoming stands now in terms of LGBTQ acceptance?

Andrew Munz at Jackson's Old West Days parade.
Credit Angus Thuermer

  AM: When I was marching down the street for old west days, you know, I got some pretty awful messages from anonymous Facebook accounts. And that stuff was discouraging, but I didn't want to share those words, because I feel like the more power I gave those voices, the less power I was giving myself. Do I think that there's still homophobia in the state? 100%. Do I still think it's in my community? Absolutely. That's not something that's easily changeable, you know, people's perceptions and people's beliefs are not the most malleable things. And so the more we can showcase to more conservative minds that LGBTQ culture is, it's not all about sex. It's about expression. It's about fun and acceptance and laughter and parody. And there's a lot of other elements that unfortunately, a more bigoted mindset tends to blot out when it comes to the reality of LGBTQ culture.

MF: So what do you think the future might look like for Wyoming?

AM: Do I think everything's gonna be fine one day, and we're never gonna have this discussion again. I don't, I think people will always be different, people will always hold on to their more traditional beliefs and you can't really fault them for that you can fault people for committing crimes or harming other people. But ultimately to be mad at somebody for the way that they believe it's a difficult pill to swallow sometimes but you you have to move on and you have to affect change where you're able to. Unfortunately, Wyoming is just one of those places where it takes a little bit longer.

MF: Andrew Munz, I want to thank you so much for speaking with me.

AM: Thank you so much.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Megan Feighery, at mfeigher@uwyo.edu.