Saturday, August 1, 2015

Working toward equality

Recently I suggested Wyoming’s state motto is misleading. There is little that justifies us telling others we’re “The Equality State.”

My column cited historical evidence showing that we haven’t earned the motto. From the Chinese massacre in the mid-19th century to last year’s refusal of the legislature to protect gays and lesbians from job discrimination simply because of sexual identity, the list was long. Historian Phil White pointed out I’d missed an especially egregious incident.

In 1940 a Rawlins mob viciously hunted down Jehovah’s Witnesses. After forcing them to “kiss the American flag” out of some ignorant sense that the Witnesses were disloyal, the mob beat them severely and burned their property.

Some readers ghost-walked by the evidence, arguing, “But we’ve made progress. We’re not lynching anyone any more. So don’t be so negative.” The issue goes over the heads of pink-skinned, Christian, heterosexual males who celebrate “progress.”

Here’s the issue. Wyoming calls itself “The Equality State.” It doesn’t claim to be “The State Making Progress Toward Equality (Look out, a glacier is coming)”. We can debate whether anyone should take pride in simply “making progress” but if you tell the world that you’re “The Equality State,” you should be.

If Wyoming is satisfied with progress, that’s fine (not really), but we need an honest motto. You and I could suggest a few but what I’d really like to see us do is actually become “The Equality State.”

Instead of suggesting new mottos, let’s suggest ways Wyoming could atone for past transgressions (you all believe in atonement, right?) while really becoming “The Equality State?”

First, ask yourself how it’s possible to live up to our motto if the legislature refuses to protect the LGBTQ community from job discrimination? In our day-to-day lives, few things more important than job security. Wyoming law is unfair enough. Most employers can fire employees without cause. Regardless of how long you’ve worked or how good a job you’ve done, you can lose your livelihood with no reason.

But even “at-will” employees cannot be fired for race or gender. The legislature has refused to extend that protection to gays and lesbians. That’s not equality.

Second, Wyoming should address income inequality. A state touting “equality” as its identity shouldn’t tolerate illegitimate disparities between wages paid to men as opposed to women. Wyoming should begin by eliminating the “tip credit” which allows restaurants to pay food-service employees less than minimum wage.

Second, minimum wages must become livable wages. Anyone working full time should be able to provide basic support for themselves and their families. That’s not the case in Wyoming. The burden falls most heavily on women. More than half of all Wyoming families headed by a single parent female are living below the poverty level.

The law should require employers paying women less than a man for substantially the same work should bear the burden of proving a legitimate reason for the disparity, starting with state and local governments.

Third, it’s time for Wyoming to pass hate-crimes laws. Only five of the fifty states have not done so. One is the state known as “The Equality State.” Opponents ask why should there be a special category for crimes against minorities? The answer is the same as the one given by Wyoming legislators when they created enhanced penalties when certain crimes are committed against the elderly or drugs sold near schools.

The legislature determined the elderly and children are uniquely vulnerable and targeted for some crimes and deserve additional protection. If a 40 year-old woman is scammed, there’s one penalty. If a seventy-year old is scammed, there are additional penalties.

Minorities and the LGBTQ community are also targeted by haters and are uniquely vulnerable, which is why most states have hate-crimes laws.

Some may disagree with these suggestions. They may have their arguments about why these reforms need not be enacted. That’s beside the point. The point isn’t
wage gender gap, or pass hate-crimes legislation.

The question is whether Wyoming is the Equality State.

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