The first day of the University of Wyoming’s spring semester began with a bit of political controversy Monday, as someone flew a flag commonly associated with gay pride over the American flag on Prexy’s Pasture.
Sometime between 5:30-8:30 a.m. Monday, someone zip tied the American flag that flies over Prexy’s Pasture so it couldn’t fly and put a pride flag in its place, said Chad Baldwin, UW’s director of institutional education.
“They used a lock, so it was not easy to take off,” Baldwin said.
UW Police Department was notified about the situation just before noon, and officers worked with people from UW operations to remove the pride flag. Baldwin said a new American flag was put in its place.
Baldwin said UWPD didn’t have any leads as to who was responsible.
“I think it’s safe to say the police department is looking into it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s been any determination of what, if any, the consequences would be.”
While UW is a place that welcomes differing opinions, Baldwin said the action was not a preferred method of expressing dissent on campus.
“We recognize the right of people to protest, but we’re going to put the U.S. flag where it belongs,” he said.
UW freshman Rihanna Kelver is a transgender woman who spends time at the Rainbow Resource Center, a safe space designed to support gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and queer individuals and their families and friends. Kelver said many people in her community are disturbed by the political turmoil resulting from the recent election, as well as House Bill 135 in the Wyoming Legislature, which is thought by those who oppose it to be a way of tying the government’s hands from protecting against LGBTQ discrimination.
Though she doesn’t support destroying property, Kelver said putting the pride flag over the American flag on campus did seem like a political statement.
“There’s been a lot of political turmoil since the election and since the inauguration, and although I don’t know the direct intentions, it’s certainly interesting to see that form of political discourse,” she said.
Chairman of the Wyoming College Republicans Levi Stuttle said he supports people’s right to fly a pride flag and express their opinions. But flying the pride flag above the American flag was unacceptable to him, Stuttle said.
“To the people who died preserving that flag, it’s very disrespectful,” he said. “I do support the fact people can make statements, but the way they did this isn’t right. The way they locked it down; they took it too far. … What we should do is sit down and talk, instead of making harsh statements like this. There are better ways to get your message out there.”
The Associated Students of the University of Wyoming were not aware of the incident before asked for a response Monday afternoon. But Director of Diversity Dimitri Nesbitt says in an email that UW’s student elected representatives are committed to supporting diversity on campus.
“ASUW is strongly committed to contributing towards a campus environment in which positive interactions between people of color, of different creeds, of different sexual orientations and gender identities, of different mental and physical abilities, of different legal statuses, and of different cultures are able to exist freely and unapologetically,” he says. “The safety and well-being of all students is the paramount priority of the student government, which encompasses aspirations for an institution enriched by inclusivity and free of discrimination.”