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Wyoming bar under fire for selling shirt promoting anti-gay violence

A Wyoming bar faces criticism after selling t-shirts that appear to advocate violence against LGBTQ people.

Eagle’s Nest in Cheyenne sold shirts that read, “In Wyoming we have a cure for AIDS, we shoot f —- n ‘f —– s,” according to local media and a state rights group. . The shirt also includes an image of a man with a gun aiming at the viewer.

Bar owner Raymond Bereziuk did not return a request for comment, but told the Cheyenne Post on Monday that the shirts were sold out and he no longer plans to sell any. He added that he was “in the bar business, not in the clothing business”.

Wyoming Equality, an LGBTQ rights group, on Saturday shared a photo of one of the t-shirts in a Facebook post with the profanity and homophobic slurs covered.

“We are sad to say that we failed to convince a local bar to take these shirts off the road,” the post read. “We were hoping that they would choose to stop selling them when they realized the harm it was doing to the LGBTQ community and people living with AIDS.”

Wyoming Equality did not share the company name, saying, “We don’t want them to gain brand awareness / sell more shirts to ease the pain in our community.” Instead, the group asked people to support its work by making a donation and to consider supporting the nonprofit Wyoming AIDS Assistance.

One of the Wyoming Equality subscribers commented on the Facebook post and suggested that the group contact the liquor distributors to “see if they agree to work with an establishment that sells these types of items.”

The organization responded, “Our friends at the Human Rights Campaign are helping us with this task. HRC, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, a Republican, condemned the shirts in a statement to the Casper Star-Tribune.

“It’s incredibly disheartening to hear that a company would come up with a product for sale with a message like this,” he said. “This offensive rhetoric fails to reflect the values ​​of our state and only promotes hatred and division. “

Cheyenne, home of Eagle’s Nest, is less than an hour from Laramie, where University of Wyoming gay student Matthew Shepard died after being brutally beaten in 1998, sparking protests and vigils in nationwide.

Shepard’s murder was a catalyst for the federal government Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Barack Obama enacted in 2009. The measure provides funding to state, local and tribal jurisdictions to help them deal with it. investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes against a particular race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, among other protected classes.

In 2018, Heidi Beirich, then director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told NBC News that federal legislation is a step forward, but its jurisdiction is narrow and hasn’t had much of an impact on people. state laws.

Since Shepard’s murder, many states have passed hate crime laws, which are meant to deter bias-motivated crimes, though Wyoming is not one of them. In fact, Wyoming is one of four states without any hate crime legislation, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit LGBTQ think tank.

That, however, could change: In June, Wyoming lawmakers voted for the Legislative Services Office to draft two potential hate crime measures, which they will consider in the next legislative session in 2022, the Casper reported. Star-Tribune. The bills would provide protections for more groups of people and require state law enforcement to report hate crimes to the federal government, the Associated Press reported. Because the bills have not yet been drafted, it is not known which groups would be protected.

During public comments on Wyoming’s hate crimes bills, a woman testified that her lesbian daughter attempted suicide after she and her friends were assaulted and robbed by a group of screaming teenagers homophobic slurs, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

“She tried to kill herself because there are no protections for these children. They can’t protect themselves, ”she said, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. “We must do better, there must be laws that specifically respond to this. “

Twenty-two states explicitly prosecute hate crimes committed because of a person’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Eleven states include only sexual orientation, and one state interprets existing law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Thirteen states have hate crime laws that do not include LGBTQ status. The rest of the states, including Wyoming, have no hate crime laws.

Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality, told NBC News that the shirt made at least a few state lawmakers understand the need for a hate crimes law in Wyoming. She said the state can be warm, welcoming and hospitable, but it also has a reputation for being dangerous for LGBTQ people.

“As we make this plea for the global community to come and invest in us, there is a part of us that is so canker and that we refuse to look, we refuse to address – and this is not going to go away. “, mentionned.

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