Wapiti LGBTQ couple report being accosted, told to leave - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Wapiti LGBTQ couple report being accosted, told to leave

A photograph from a real estate website shows the entry to a development called Cody’s Country, where local LGBTQ residents say they were accosted by neighbors and told to leave. (Zillow)

October 14, 2020 by Andrew Graham, WyoFile

An LGBTQ Wapiti couple says a group of neighbors accosted them at home and told them they needed to leave because “their kind” weren’t welcome in the area.

Colin Monahan and Shannon Lastowski have lived in Cody’s Country, a real estate development near the border of Yellowstone National Park, for four years. They moved to the area to be close to the park and enjoy the region’s hunting and fishing opportunities after Monahan retired from her job as a public health expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she told WyoFile.  

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The couple had just sent off some visiting friends the afternoon of Oct. 9 when a group of five residents from the sprawling development arrived on their front porch. The group arrived in two trucks and represented four different households in the neighborhood, Monahan said.

The neighbors had ostensibly arrived to complain about the construction of the couple’s large new garage, Monahan said. The visit changed, however, when one of the neighbors told Monahan that “our kind was not welcome here and we needed to leave Cody Country,” Monahan said. 

“I said, ‘well you need to leave our porch’,” Monahan said. The group refused, Monahan said, at which point Monahan’s partner, Shannnon Lastowski, called 911. Once a Park County Sheriff’s deputy was on the phone, the group left, Monahan said.

Park County emergency dispatch records document a 911 call for a trespass complaint made from a road in Cody’s County at 5:46 p.m. on Oct. 9. The time matches Monahan’s account of the incident and the road matches her address. 

A spokesperson for the Park County Sheriff’s Department said an investigation is ongoing but that the agency wouldn’t comment further about an ongoing investigation. Park County Sheriff Scott Steward did not respond to emailed questions sent Tuesday evening. 

Colin Monahan says a resident of her neighborhood previously made this homophobic Facebook post in response to a post from Monahan in a neighborhood group. (Facebook)

Monahan — a decorated Coast Guard volunteer, epidemiologist and respiratory therapist, according to Lastowksi — had a run in with one of the neighbors a year earlier, she said. The man had replied to a Monahan post in a neighborhood Facebook group with a threatening rant about “homosexual transvestites,” she said. Monahan told the group on her porch that she would not speak to them with him present, she said, after which he waited in a truck.

Monahan provided WyoFile a screenshot of the Facebook post. “The homosexual transvestites wanted to push their demented agenda down the throats of regular conservative Americans! ! Here in wapit, wy! Not going to happen…EVER!!!!!!,” the post read.

WyoFile left several unreturned voicemails and Facebook messages for the man at his personal account and at a phone number listed for his business. Facebook messages to another woman alleged to have been at the scene were also not responded to on Wednesday. The woman had shared several homophobic posts about the Obama family, according to a review of her Facebook activity.

Initially reluctant, Monahan and Lastowski agreed to speak on the record about the incident as named sources in hopes of generating a positive community response, they said. 

“I know that we have more people here that are good than are bad,” Monahan said. “The bad people are really a minority. But they get a loud voice if people don’t do something about it. They can successfully shoo people out of their neighborhoods.”

Steward was initially investigating the incident as a trespassing crime, Monahan said following a meeting with the sheriff on Tuesday. She had urged him to investigate for harassment as well, and said she wanted to press harassment charges. 

Monahan did not see any firearms or weapons, but felt threatened by the visit and message nonetheless, she said. 

“It felt very threatening and Shannon was so upset,” she said. 

Hate crime legislation

Wyoming does not have an anti-discrimination statute specific to LGBTQ people, or a hate crime law. The issue has been politically divisive in the Wyoming Legislature, where attempts at moving such statutes have repeatedly failed. In December 2018, the Legislature’s leadership removed language providing specific protections for people who worked in the Capitol against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after conservatives opposed the protections. 

“If Wyoming had a hate crime legislation this would clearly be a hate crime,” Monahan said. “But because there is no hate crime in Wyoming you have to look at as trespassing or… you have to kind of get around what the issue is.”

Word of the incident has spread quickly in the area. Monahan and Lastowski have received an outpouring of support including food and offers of shelter from their neighbors, Monahan said. 

The owners of a local outdoor sporting goods store made a lengthy Facebook post, writing that people who engage in acts of hate were not welcome in the shop. 

“Our community has been exceptionally good to us in the last ten years,” Sunlight Sports owners Wes and Melissa Allen wrote. “You all have had a part in carrying us through bear spray blowing up in our store, economic downturns, bad snow years and other situations that might have put Sunlight Sports out of business if we weren’t surrounded by such good people. We’re here because of you. And make no mistake – we believe that 99% of county residents are good people.” 

“Unfortunately, recent events have reminded us that some of them aren’t good people. Some of our neighbors are broken. They feel that it’s ok to let their hate spill out in a way that makes this a worse place to live for everyone, but especially for people that are different in some way from them. This willingness to harass their neighbors feels different and wrong.  As a family, as a business, and as part of the community we now feel like it’s our responsibility to stand up and say that what these broken people are doing is not OK in this community.”

In a phone interview, Wes Allen said the post was about more than just the incident in Wapiti, but about other recent incidents of hate or discrimination he had heard about. 

“I don’t want to frame this just as a reaction to what happened in Wapiti,” he said. “I think I’m hearing about more of these things than I did.”  

Word of the Wapiti incident has also reached Gov. Mark Gordon. In a phone call on Tuesday, the governor’s spokesperson said Gordon had been aware of the incident since Monday and had reached out to Park County officials. The governor’s office declined to comment, however, saying they were still gathering facts from officials about what had transpired.