A bar in Wyoming is facing criticism after selling T-shirts that appear to advocate for violence against LGBTQ people.
Eagle's Nest, in Cheyenne, sold shirts that said, “In Wyoming, we have a cure for AIDS, we shoot f----n' f-----s,” according to local news outlets and a statewide advocacy group. The shirt also includes an image of a man with a pistol that’s aimed at the viewer.
The bar's owner, Raymond Bereziuk, has not returned a request for comment, but he told The Cheyenne Post on Monday that the shirts are sold out and he doesn't plan to sell any more. He added that he is "in the bar business, not the apparel business."
Wyoming Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group, shared a photo of one of the shirts in a Facebook post Saturday with the profanity and homophobic slur covered.
"We are sad to say that we failed to convince a local bar to pull these shirts from circulation," the post read. "We hoped that they would choose to stop selling them when they realized the harm it did to the LGBTQ community and those living with AIDS."
Wyoming Equality did not share the name of the business, saying, "We do not want them to gain notoriety/ sell more shirts off the pain of our community." Rather, the group asked people to support its work by donating and to consider supporting the nonprofit organization Wyoming AIDS Assistance.
One of Wyoming Equality's followers commented on the Facebook post and suggested the group contact alcohol distributors to “see if they are OK with working with an establishment selling these types of items.”
The organization responded, “Our friends at the Human Rights Campaign are helping us with this.” HRC, the country's largest LGBTQ advocacy group, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, condemned the shirts in a statement to the Casper Star-Tribune.
“It’s incredibly disheartening to learn that any business would offer a product for sale with a message like this,” he said. “This hurtful rhetoric is not reflective of our state’s values, and does nothing but promote hate and division.”
Cheyenne, where Eagle's Nest is located, is less than an hour from Laramie, where gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard died after being brutally beaten in 1998, sparking nationwide protests and vigils.
Shepard's murder was a catalyst for the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009. The measure provides funding to state, local and tribal jurisdictions to help them investigate and prosecute crimes motivated by bias against a particular race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, among other protected classes.
In 2018, Heidi Beirich, then the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told NBC News that the federal legislation was a step forward, but its jurisdiction is narrow and didn’t have much of an impact on state laws.
Since Shepard's murder, many states have passed hate crime laws, which are meant to deter bias-motivated crime, though Wyoming isn't one of them. In fact, Wyoming is one of only four states without any hate crime legislation at all, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit LGBTQ think tank.
That, however, could change: In June, Wyoming lawmakers voted to have the Legislative Service Office draft two potential hate crime measures, which they will consider during the next legislative session in 2022, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. The bills would provide protections to more groups of people and would require state law enforcement to report hate crimes to the federal government, The Associated Press reported. Because the bills haven't been drafted yet, it's unclear which groups would be protected.
During public comment on the Wyoming hate crime bills, a woman testified that her lesbian daughter attempted suicide after she and her friends were assaulted and robbed by a group of teenagers who yelled homophobic slurs, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.
“She tried to take her own life because there are not protections for these kids. They cannot protect themselves,” she said, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. “We need to do better, there need to be laws that specifically cater to this.”
Twenty-two states explicitly prosecute hate crimes committed due to a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, according to 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 don’t include LGBTQ status. The remaining states, including Wyoming, have no hate crime laws at all.
Sara Burlingame, the executive director of Wyoming Equality, told NBC News that the shirt has made at least a few state legislators understand the need for a hate crime law in Wyoming. She said the state can be warm, welcoming and hospitable, but it has also earned a reputation of being unsafe for LGBTQ people.
“As we make this pitch to the global community to come and invest in us, there’s a piece of us that is just so cankering and that we refuse to look at, we refuse to address — and it’s not going to go away,” she said.