The Casper City Council on Tuesday approved on a 6-3 vote a resolution to create a LGBTQ advisory group to hear concerns from that community and to improve the city's image as an attractive place to live and do business.

Mayor Steve Freel said it would be only an advisory group and would not have any power to create legislation.

Recalling his career in law enforcement, Freel said that he worked with liquor dealers. He knew how the law worked, but he didn't understand the hospitality industry and needed to learn how to listen to their concerns.

The same applies with the LGBTQ community, he said, adding it would give city government the opportunity to ask people “how does this affect you?”

The council tentatively approved the creation of the advisory board at its Jan. 28 work session, and Tuesday's vote formalized it.

During the public comment period, Ryan McConnaughey said the LGBTQ community includes people from all walks of life. But they are often singled out for bullying, the threat of job loss, discrimination in housing and the fear of retribution if they speak up.

The LGBTQ community especially needs help for its high suicide rate, threats of violence and mental health issues, he added.

Caitlin Jonkers, born in 2006, said she and her friends are often shunned and undermined by other people.

"People tell us it is not okay to not be straight," Jonkers said. "You can't choose who you love."

But resolution opponent Linda Bergeron said unlike the task force created last year for disabled people who have identifiable practical needs, LGBTQ issues can be identified only by individuals and their own feelings and needs.

Linda Bergeron. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media
Linda Bergeron. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

The needs of LGBTQ individuals must be considered alongside the rights of the  majority of others who may be affected by their agenda, Bergeron said.

The advisory group will lead to more government and regulations influenced by a select and very small group of elitists, she said.

Doug Bergeron also opposed the resolution because there was only one work session about it, it would elevate one class of citizens above others, and he questioned the timing of placing it on the agenda for Tuesday because that coincided with President Donald Trump's State of the Union address.

After the public comment, council member Shawn Johnson said this would strictly be an an advisory council composed of a marginalized group wanting the right to petition government.

Steve Cathey and two other council members unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to create a broader human rights advisory group that would include the LGBTQ community.

Other groups such as indigenous peoples and veterans have high suicide rates, and their needs should be considered as well, Cathey said.

Ken Bates also favored the idea, saying everybody is equal and deserves freedom of speech.

Johnson and Mike Huber responded that a human rights committee would dilute the specific concerns of the LGBTQ community, with Johnson adding that he's in favor of other marginalized groups forming advisory groups.

Ray Pacheco said the city council was not pressured to create the advisory group, but rather council members asked people in the LGBTQ community what they wanted.

Pacheco also took a swipe at statements from people who called and emailed him telling him that everyone is regarded equally and that Casper is a welcoming city.

He said people should look at the derogatory comments on social media that have disparaged the LGBTQ community after reports of the proposed resolution.

Charlie Powell, who pushed for the resolution when he was mayor last year, said the LGBTQ suicide rate is high and if the creation of the advisory group will be worth it if it saves one life.

In Casper, anti-discrimination laws protect African-Americans, women and other protected groups from being fired or denied housing, he said.

No such protection exists for gay people, Powell said, adding he would like to see the city pass an anti-discrimination ordinance that protects LGBTQ people.

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