(Gillette, Wyo.) An article shared on a personal Facebook page by Vicki Kissack, chair of the Campbell County Republican Party, generated a statewide media coverage and outrage over what some are saying is bigoted.
The city of Gillette, town of Wright, and Campbell County issued a joint statement Friday criticizing the article, which compared the LGBTQ movement and its impact on Christians to the Nazi Holocaust.
But some people are arguing the backlash is a form of censorship and an example of the discrimination Christian heterosexuals face, which the offending article discusses.
Sara Painter, a Gillette resident since 1970, spoke during the regular Campbell County Commission meeting today, criticizing the joint statement.
“It looks to me like equality is being withheld in this case by the very Campbell County leaders who issued this statement, basically proclaiming that they do not support the right of Christians to voice their opinions,” Painter told the commission.
Speaking after the meeting, Painter said she didn’t really agree with the article, but she didn’t see it as hate speech. She said Kissack had every right to share it, and the response of many in the community and the Campbell County government entities is a form of bullying meant to silence opinions they don’t want expressed.
On social media, including Kissack’s Facebook page, many supporters expressed similar views and say the reaction is indicative of the concerns expressed in the article Kissack shared and quoted.
The joint statement explicitly supports Kissack’s right to free speech but condemns what the officials say is bigotry.
In the joint statement, Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King said, “To compare any group of people to Nazis is vulgar and against everything that a decent society represents.”
Painter emailed the city of Gillette and Commissioner Mark Christensen, requesting they issue an apology for the joint statement. She also wrote a letter to the editor to the local newspaper, which they ran today.
Christensen replied to Painter, saying he was an “outspoken” supporter of free speech, but “we have a responsibility to use our free speech in a respectful and appropriate way.”
He also invited Painter to come visit with him personally.
Painter said she appreciated the response and considered it a sign of the commissioner’s respect for her, but she still feels elected officials are “bullying” people who share Kissack’s point of view.
“They’re trying to bully and intimidate so people with that viewpoint don’t speak up,” Painter said.
Carter-King also replied to Painter.
“Disagreeing with someone or a group of people is not discriminatory. Therefore, an apology, public or otherwise, is unnecessary,” Carter-King replied in her email.
Kissack’s husband, Commissioner Clark Kissack, is usually fairly quiet on the commission, but he also spoke on the controversy today at the commission meeting.
Kissack characterized the response to the article his wife shared as “attacks” and urged people to be kinder to one another. He said there were more important matters in the county to discuss.
“We have bigger fish to fry than cherry picking things off Facebook and roasting people for it. We are a community that needs to come together,” Commissioner Kissack said.
Painter described herself as a Christian but said she has a deep distrust of organized religion. However, she believes that the correlation between the growth of the LGBTQ community and the downward trend in people identifying as Christian is evidence that the movement is oppositional to Christianity.
According to Gallup polls, the rate of Christian identification declined from 80.1 percent in 2008 to 75.2 percent by 2015. During that time the number who do not identify with any religion increased from 14.6 percent to 19.6 percent, while those identifying with non-Christian religions saw very little change.
According to Gallup, Americans identifying as LGBT increased from 3.5 percent in 2012 to 4.1 percent in 2016.
Hank Pridgeon is a local representative of Wyoming Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group. He said among the Wyoming LGBTQ community he knows, he’s never heard of any effort or desire to eradicate Christianity.
“Most of the people I know share Christian beliefs,” he said.
Private vs. public
He said Kissack’s sharing of the article was problematic as a representative of the Republican Party in Campbell County. He said he’s heard a lot of criticism of the shared article from Republicans he knows, and as a representative of the party, she should have exercised more discretion.
“She needs to take more care in segregating her private and public views,” Pridgeon said.
Terry Sjolin, who also spoke at today’s commission meeting, expressed the same concern. While Sjolin said she completely disagrees with the views expressed in the article Kissack shared, the primary concern is that she shared it publicly.
Facebook allows users to set a shared article so that it can only be seen by friends or by anyone, and the article was shared with a public setting. Sjolin said Kissack has a lot of personal material, such as pictures of family, she keeps on the friends-only setting.
The article “was meant to be public,” Sjolin said.
In this way, Sjolin said, Kissack, as a representative of the party, is effectively associating all Republicans in the county with her own personal viewpoints.
Like Pridgeon, Sjolin said Kissack should exercise more discretion in separating her personal beliefs with her public ones.
On that issue, Painter said the solution is simple. Rather than excoriating Kissack for her personal beliefs, if they really feel they’re a problem, they should remove her from her position on the Campbell County Republican Party.
“Where ever it was shared, I don’t care. It’s freedom of speech,” Painter said.
Kissack did not immediately return calls seeking comment for this article.
Outliers Creative, LLC, the publisher of County 17, is owned by The MC Family of Companies, LLC, a company owned by Commissioner Mark Christensen.
This article was updated to reflect that the local newspaper did run Sara Painter’s letter to the editor.