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Community divided over hate crime ordinance during May 2 Gillette City Council meeting

An ordinance that passed its first reading by the Gillette City Council 4-3 on May 2 drew mixed reactions from residents who stood to speak for and against it during a public hearing at City Hall.

A letter from Ariane Jimison, co-owner of Pizza Carello, is read aloud asking the Gillette City Council to support the anti-hate crime ordinance that passed it's first reading on May 2

GILLETTE, Wyo. — A proposed city ordinance intending to battle hate-motivated crime drew mixed reviews from residents this week, narrowly passing its first reading by the Gillette City Council on Tuesday.

Passing with a 4–3 vote by the council on May 2, the ordinance must advance through two more readings before Gillette joins Cheyenne, Laramie, Jackson and Casper in passing anti-hate legislation in a state that has repeatedly failed to adopt a statewide anti-hate law of its own. 

Wyoming remains one of only two states in the nation, the other being South Carolina, to not have a state-level anti-hate law in place, according to the City of Gillette. 

If enacted, the local ordinance would prohibit people from injuring, threatening to injure or inciting violence against people or their property based on their race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, national origin, ancestry or disability. 

The ordinance and its intentions drew mixed reviews from dozens of residents who appeared before the council to speak about it during a public hearing at City Hall on May 2. 

Those who spoke in support of the ordinance did so because they said it would help them feel safe or that it would send a strong message that Gillette is a community that welcomes people from all walks of life.

A letter addressed to the council penned by Arrrianne Jimison, co-owner of the renowned Pizza Carrello, implored the council to help her, her wife and others like them in a community where they feel they don’t feel safe and have experienced abuse at the hands of those who disagree with their way of life. 

“My vehicles have been vandalized, once by spray paint and another with a pumpkin thrown through my windshield,” Jimison wrote, adding that in both instances homosexual slurs were used. 

She said that Pizza Carrello has been vandalized at least twice, once by someone carving homosexual slurs into a dining table and again by someone covering the men’s restroom in feces to spell out more slurs. 

Jimison wrote that she and her wife, Rachel Kalenburg, have been harassed and called names in three different grocery stores and that she herself was chased by a group of men in a pickup truck who were screaming slurs at her. 

Ariane Jimison and Rachel Kalenberg, the owners of Pizza Carello. (File Photo)

“I listen to many people say we are not wanted in our community. At the very least, some people want us to be quiet about our lives and want to take away our marriage rights,” Jimison said, claiming others would love to round them up and kill them. 

Vicki Swenson said she was in favor of the ordinance because of what she’s heard about Gillette from other communities in the state who often turn people away from moving to Gillette due to an abundance of negative, hateful rhetoric. 

“One might say the opinions of others outside of Gillette don’t matter. I strongly disagree. It matters on several levels, one being economic development — we not only need people to stay and to come to Gillette,” Swenson said, “without a skilled and knowledgeable workforce, Gillette will not grow. It will not have the solid economic base that we must have for our future.”

Sae Cotton, who goes by the pronouns they/them, expressed feeling nervous about speaking in public and said they would likely be checking behind them as they left the building that night. 

“I don’t feel safe,” Cotton said. “As an individual, I just want to be able to hold hands with my loved one in public without having to check around constantly to make sure that I’m safe. Having legal protections for this sort of thing would mean the world to me.”

Dani Minchow, who identified himself as an openly transgender man, also related feelings of fear because he didn’t know what sort of reception to expect from the people attending the May 2 meeting. 

“I think about it a lot, you know? Is someone going to follow me home? Is someone going to follow me to work, to the store? I don’t know. I never leave my house without my pocketknife because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen here,” Minchow said. 

Dani Minchow addresses the city council during its May 2 meeting

Those who spoke out against the ordinance did so for a myriad of reasons. Some called into question whether it would violate free speech protections afforded under the U.S. Constitution, while others expressed concerns that it carried the potential to further divide the community. 

Some who spoke against it said they were doing so because certain criminal acts, like threatening, property destruction or assault were already defined in law, claiming that the ordinance is thus unnecessary, while others felt that the city simply has bigger fish to fry. 

Wyoming State Sen. Troy McKeown (R-Gillette) said the city’s proposed ordinance is unconstitutional and that it was missing crucial information for defining what would be considered a crime should the council adopt it. 

“There’s no measurable evidence or element in this crime,” McKeown said. “It goes down to one person’s judgment of whether I said something or somebody said something to somebody,” McKeown said. 

From his perception, the ordinance would likely take the city down a path where the government would eventually be deciding who people like and who they don’t. 

“We’re going to find another way to take people’s freedoms and liberties away in the name of the greater good for all,” he said. “So, as you guys consider this, I would just tell you it’s unconstitutional — but what’s the constitution among friends?”

George Dunlap, who said he has good friends supporting the ordinance while other people are against it, suggested it is best that the council leave well enough alone.  

“We don’t want this division in our community anymore,” he said, referencing his recent attendance to Campbell County Public Library Board meetings and the goings-on there. “We don’t need it. This is ridiculous to have this division in our community. We all need to work together.”

Chelsea Roan, who said she was a member of the LGBTQ community, said that she was against the ordinance first because it would limit her religious practices, such as burning a Koran, and then because the crimes identified as such in the ordinance are crimes already. 

“We already protect people from crime. There’s no hate crime, there’s crime. There’s no social justice, there’s just justice,” Roan said. “So we should not do more division because I don’t think anybody should be attacked or harassed for who they are and who they choose to be.”

Chelsea Roan speaks out against the hate crime ordinance during the city council meeting on May 2. (GPA-TV)

Ed Sisti said that he was against the ordinance because he believes people have equal rights, not extra rights, and didn’t feel there should be protected classes. He also felt the ordinance would be creating new criminals to be prosecuted over a disagreement or because they misgendered someone. 

“This is overreach. [Council], we’ve got to get our house in order here,” Sisti said. “We’ve got to fill the potholes, build the bridge, fix the water and sewer issues, and finish the pool. Again, this is an ordinance where you’re creating new criminals and I would hate for you all to be one of them.”