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Sunday, January 23, 2011

University of Wyoming students protest state immigration & gay marriage bills.

More than 60 students, faculty and staff gathered Friday afternoon in the University of Wyoming’s Simpson Plaza to protest two House bills they believe discriminate against gays, lesbians and ethnic minorities.

The protestors marched around Prexy’s Pasture with signs condemning discrimination and questioning Wyoming’s moniker as the Equality State to show the state Legislature their opposition to House bills 74 and 94.

HB 74 would change state law to void marriages and unions between gay and lesbian couples performed outside Wyoming.

The protestors say the bill “fuels the fires of heterosexism,” which is discrimination or sexism by heterosexuals against homosexuals.

HB 94 is an Arizona-style illegal immigrant bill that would make it a crime for immigrants to not carry an alien registration document

The bill allows law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of a person who has been stopped, arrested or detained if reasonable suspicion exists that the person might be in Wyoming illegally.

HB 94 says law enforcement officers are not to use race, color or national origin to determine reasonable suspicion.

A person is presumed not to be in Wyoming illegally if they show a law enforcement officer a Wyoming driver’s license, a valid identification card issued by the Wyoming Department of Transportation, a tribal identification card or federal or state government identification card.

Despite the bill’s provision against using race, color and national origin to determine reasonable suspicion, opponents say HB 94 would result in police officers performing racial profiling of ethnic minorities, particularly Latinos and Native Americans.

UW student Jose Gamboa, 21, said he and four other students organized the protest to show the Legislature the university community’s opposition to the bills.

“The University of Wyoming is a very diverse place,” he said. “There are people from around the world that live and call Wyoming home.”

Gamboa said both bills promote discrimination and, as a result, violate Wyoming’s self-professed status as the Equality State.

“To be having these issues right now is unacceptable,” he said. “We’re alienating people. We’re separating individuals from the rest of us and we’re targeting minority groups, which shouldn’t be happening in this day and age.”

Gamboa said it’s hypocritical that those state lawmakers who are supporting the bills also say they want government to stay out of people’s lives.

“They’re actually doing the opposite, especially with the gay marriage bill,” he said.

Brian Lee, the state director of Organizing for America, attended the protest to encourage students to contact their representatives to let them know their opposition to the bills.

Lee agreed that the Wyoming Legislature is sending a mixed signal with the bills.

“A lot of our state legislators speak about states’ rights and getting the government out of our lives, but we’re going to let them into our living rooms (and) into our bedrooms,” he said. “It doesn’t really speak to state rights.”

Lee also said voiding the marriages of gay and lesbian couples from other states is bad for the economy.

“It doesn’t allow for a diverse economy because we’re pushing out talented individuals and putting up a stone wall for individuals wanting to come in,” he said.

As for HB 94, Lee said it is a copy of the controversial Arizona illegal immigration bill.

“It doesn’t address immigration policy. It doesn’t address the stress that’s going to then be put on our legislative and criminal justice systems,” he said. “And it sure doesn’t speak to diversity and allowing individuals coming into our country … to live free and prosper.”

Judging from what’s happened in Arizona because of boycotts by states and economic organizations, Lee said HB 94 would be bad for Wyoming’s economy.

“They’re expecting … $90 billion in lost revenue to their tourism industry, and that’s our No. 2 industry here in Wyoming,” he said.


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