The Casper City Council at a work session on Tuesday agreed to continue a decision in November to create an advisory group from the gay community to city management, and rejected a proposal to create a general human rights advisory group.
Council member and former Mayor Charlie Powell proposed the committee as a response to the civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign that gave Casper a low score on its annual municipal equality index regarding the rights of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and queer people.
The index rates municipalities in terms of nondiscrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and leadership on LGBTQ equality.
The highest score possible is 100. The index tagged Casper with a score of 11.
After the work session, City Manager Carter Napier said Casper’s low score could convey to the public that Casper isn’t welcoming or interested in protecting rights.
But it’s not a good means of measuring inclusivity, he said. “When a person looks at that element only, they don’t get a full picture of what the situation is here in Casper, and they probably would never know how accommodating and accepting Casper can be as a community.”
He wasn’t impressed with the Human Rights Campaign’s system of measuring, either, and was not aware if anyone from that organization even visited Casper, he said.
Casper received a score of zero about law enforcement, but that’s because Wyoming is one of a few states that does not have a hate crimes law, Napier said. “There’s no data we provide, either, so in that regard we score very poorly.”
Tuesday, the council revisited the issue despite the earlier direction given to the city staff to develop the LGBTQ steering committee.
Council member Bob Hopkins suggested creating a general human rights advisory commission.
Powell said he understood the intent, but it would be a slap in the face to a marginalized group that has a high suicide rate.
“I’m absolutely opposed to watering this down, with a broader human rights commission,” Powell said.
Besides that, he said the council set a precedent for specific-interest groups a year ago when it agreed to establish the mayor’s council for people with disabilities.
However, the creation of such a specific LGBTQ advisory group met with resistance from some council members.
Steve Cathey said all lives are equal, as are all categories of crimes.
Ken Bates said he understood the need for a disability committee because disabled persons sometimes cannot physically attend council meetings. But he opposed creating a committee for any other group of residents because they can attend council meetings.
But Ray Pacheco, who is Hispanic, said the voices of minorities aren’t often heard because of threats and being marginalized.
“I don’t see how this can hurt a community,” Pacheco said. “That’s Christ-like.”
Mike Huber agreed, saying it can be overwhelming for people who have been put down to come forward and talk.