LGBTQ High School Students In Cody Struggle Without A Support System

Oct 5, 2018

Matthew Shepard's murder occurred far from Cody, but the Wyoming town still felt the effect of the tragedy. While many know about it, the event hasn't markedly changed the culture in that part of the state. A lack of a support system for the LGBTQ community is energizing some to move forward to create a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club.

Tyler Bruce
Credit Tyler Bruce

Tyler Bruce is from a family of five boys and said he was harassed and bullied since he was two for not being hyper-masculine.

"I got teased a lot for being flamboyant, high energy when I was little," Bruce said. "It started out with my family…to be honest."

By the time of Matthew Shepard's murder, Bruce was six and already understood that his family and community wouldn't accept him for who he was. Bruce attributes this to the lack of diversity and education about the LGBTQ community in Cody. He recalled verbal and physical abuse at Cody High School.

"I worried every single day going into school whether I was going to bullied and if I was going to be happy coming back from school," he said.

Bruce wasn't able to find a support system in Cody. There was no Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club at the high school or any other accessible community that could be supportive. But he does remember a teacher standing up for him when a student started calling him derogatory names.

"Amy Gerber just looked at this kid and was like, 'I don't deal with that kind of stuff in this classroom,' and she kicked him out of the class," Bruce remembered.

Amy Gerber stands in her classroom at Cody High School.
Credit Kamila Kudelska

Amy Gerber is still teaching biology and environmental science at Cody High School. She doesn't remember this particular incident but said she has witnessed bullying.

"It's more name calling than anything else," Gerber said. "I've never seen any physical violence or anything of that nature."

But Bruce said he was physically abused and attacked. He finally came out when he was 17 and was kicked out of his home. He finished high school and left Wyoming.

For Gerber, Bruce's situation became highly personal five years ago: "My son came out to me when he was 14."

Her son, Ted, whose now a freshman at the University of Wyoming, said his community in high school just doesn't talk about LGBTQ issues, unlike his family. He said adding a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club to the high school could help change that.

"I think it would be important for Cody High School to have a GSA," he said. "Because even if you are in a place that often times seems like it can flat out hate you for who you are that still shows there are people there who care and understand you."

Ted Gerber
Credit Ted Gerber

His mom has already tried to make her classroom more welcoming by hanging a rainbow flag in her room. And she's asked students whether they would like a GSA, but in the past, the LGBTQ students were afraid it would put targets on their backs.

Cody High School senior, Ben Wambeke, sees things differently. He's been openly gay since the beginning of his junior year and he's made it his mission to try to create a GSA club at the high school before he graduates.

"I would want to educate more about the community because I can count on one hand the amount of times that LGBTQ people have been mentioned in my classes," he said.

Wambeke said a support system is providing an education which could help avoid those suicidal thoughts LGBTQ people feel when their friends and family are turning on them. But he admitted it won't be easy.

"I'm worried there could be backlash from the school board…honestly," Wambeke said. "I don't know, some members have said things in the past."

Ben Wambeke
Credit Kamila Kudelska

In Park County School District #6, which Cody is part of, the school board has to approve all clubs. And according to Wambeke and Gerber, the school board hasn't looked favorably at such things. Wambeke still wants to try.

"If we waited any longer it would be just not right," he said. "If we want a support system there's never going to be a good time."

Wambeke believes people are becoming more tolerant in Cody but he said there still are a few who don't understand. That comes from a lack of diversity and education, he thinks. Wambeke is still very optimistic that there will be a support system for those in the LGBTQ community by the time he graduates.