A state senator confronted three University of Wyoming freshmen during the Shepard Symposium earlier this month about their presentation on concealed carry and race.
The Shepard Symposium is a week-long annual event named in honor of Matthew Shepard, a young gay Laramie man who was murdered in 1998.
The symposium features presentations on gay rights, gender equality and other social justice topics.
According to the student presenters, Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, asked their instructor, Allison Gernant, for her name and, when she refused, threatened her by saying he would find out and defund her department.
“He came in with a motive,” said Desmin Lewis, one of the presenters. “He put his two cents in and didn’t listen to anything we have to say. It kind of shocked all of us because the way he presented himself was unprofessional and he just wasn’t listening at all.”
The presentation, which started as an English class project, looked at the ways lenient concealed carry laws, when combined with racial prejudices, endanger minorities. Bouchard, following the confrontation in which he also allegedly spoke about bringing bombs to campus to test UWPD’s response time, returned to the booth to take pictures.
“He tried to be sneaky about it, but we all knew what he was doing,” Lewis said.
Lewis and his co-presenters said they figured he would put the pictures on social media.
“We checked his Facebook, and sure enough, there it is on Facebook, and we are getting hammered with comments,” he said. “And out of everyone, Allison probably … got targeted the most.”
Commenters on Bouchard’s post helped identify Gernant, called for defunding the program and complained of “liberal indoctrination.”
Lewis and his co-presenter Tyrell Proby both said Bouchard missed the point of their presentation, which was not anti-gun and did not advocate gun control.
“He believes our presentation is more along the lines of gun control and taking away our weapons,” Proby said. “So, he wasn’t listening to our presentation because our presentation was about how there needs to be an improvement in the ease with which someone can get concealed carry.”
Lewis and Proby said they cared more about Bouchard refusing to have a calm debate than about any political disagreements.
“He was very aggressive with the things he was saying, very biased, didn’t listen to anyone besides himself,” Lewis said. “Which is OK. That’s what a debate is: You’re supposed to be passionate about what you’re saying, you’re supposed to have emotions, but in a debate, you kind of have to listen sometimes, too.”
Bouchard said stories about the incident are “fake news,” but confirmed he was at the Shepard Symposium and he talked to the students.
“When he says things are ‘fake news’ that’s wholly inappropriate for an elected Wyoming official to say because many people heard something,” Gernant said. “We don’t want people to be disruptive, aggressive and lying who are our elected officials. We really demand more and we should be able to disagree with him, politely, in public and not feel like our jobs are threatened.”
Lewis, Proby and their co-presenter Jerard Swan were invited to show UW President Laurie Nichols their project Wednesday morning. Chris Boswell, vice president of governmental and community affairs, said the president was appreciative both of the presentation itself and of the students for taking a stand on a controversial issue.
“She extended her admiration to the students for the way they handled things and specifically noted that the university is really proud of the students,” he said.
Boswell said he was not concerned about Bouchard’s comments related to bringing bombs on campus.
“He’d be the first to say he wasn’t serious about that,” Boswell said. “He was just using it as an example and I think everybody involved didn’t take it as a threat. Whether it was appropriate of him to say that or not is up for others to judge, but I don’t think he was threatening to take an action like that.”
Gernant also said she was not worried, though she felt scared and threatened at the time.
“I think he was joking,” she said.