LGBT Q&A

Rev. Hannah Roberts Villnave

Rev. Hannah Roberts Villnave is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne. During Pride season and beyond, Rev. Hannah hopes that people amplify their voices and power to influence their elected leaders' decisions and their votes during WyLeg and beyond.

 

What does it look like, for you, to celebrate Pride?

Pride means finding time to celebrate with our family.

During Pride month, we make it a point to go to events that honor families who are diverse and welcome them into new spaces. In Cheyenne, there’s a community picnic held to bring in families to a safe and affirming space. Our church also hosts a Sunday service where we talk about what this time of the year means and how we can use this energy to make our communities stronger for queer people. Pride is a great time to work with fellow advocates and community leaders to find these places where LGBTQ people and their families can exist without worry.

These are particularly important when you reside in a state that’s run in such a way where being out as LGBTQ can feel taboo or make you feel like you don’t belong.

Tell us more about the work you do in Wyoming.

Through my work as a Unitarian Universalist minister and a board member of Wyoming Equality, I focus on matters that affect the LGBTQ folk in our state and how we can find collaborative partnerships to make life better for all Wyomingites.

A big part of the work I do will oftentimes focus on the legislative session which happens bi-annually, with a budget session on the in-between. Legislative advocacy takes many forms, whether that means turning out a crowd at the capitol, writing or calling our elected leaders, or offering testimony to support or oppose legislation. Wyoming has a history of defeating “bad bills” that would discriminate against the LGBTQ community, but there is still work to be done passing positive legislation, like the employment non-discrimination bill that made it out of committee during the 2019 session.

There is, indeed, a hefty amount of work to do in our state, but we are on the right track I think.  Recently, at McCormick Junior High in Cheyenne, there were racist and anti-LGBTQ flyers posted at the school. A coalition of community members came together to hold our school board and district accountable for their actions in the wake of the incident. There is still so much work to be done, but this kind of coalition building gives me hope.
 

What does LGBTQ activism look like to you?

LGBTQ activism looks like persistence - making it a point to show up and be a part of the work.

Each person has value to add to any movement. Their voice and point of view is unique and should be honored in whatever possible way. Outside of pride and legislative session, LGBTQ activism in Wyoming most often looks like being in spaces where LGBTQ people might not normally go. I want people to know that we’re not going anywhere. Queer people don’t need to apologize for being who we are.

The other part of this, which might take a little more effort, is working to establish strong coalitions with organizations and individuals. This is where the hard work gets done and elected officials are held accountable for their actions.

None of us are free till all of us are free. We have to work together.
 

Do you think more people should get involved politically? If so, how.

More folks should absolutely be involved. There is room for all people to engage. The important part to note is that it all starts locally. Start by letting local organizations know you care and that you want to do something. Let school boards, elected officials, and other entities know you are paying attention. Then be sure to demonstrate that by showing up.

Wyoming isn’t that densely populated, which means our elected leaders represent a limited number of constituents. This amplifies our voices and power to influence their decisions and, ultimately, their votes. We have to let them know what we’re thinking and do it often, not just during the legislative session.
 

Where do you see opportunities for change in Wyoming? 

I’m so hopeful about the growing coalitions of Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Wyoming. These groups are wonderful for welcoming in young LGBTQ folk and giving them a space and outlet to express their identities. They can then turn around and take hold of the narrative in the state about LGBTQ youth and say, “this is our home, we aren’t going anywhere.”

Wyoming Equality supports the work of the network of GSAs in Wyoming, if anyone would like to learn more.

Another opportunity I keep driving home is the importance of building strong partnerships with organizations and other communities. One thing that happened after McCormick was that we saw the effectiveness of collaboration and intersectional work.
 
In conservative places like Wyoming, LGBTQ issues can be a hot-button issue. Our elected leaders aren’t strangers to national headlines with obscene anti-LGBTQ quotes. This does, however, give us a unique opportunity to grab the mic and highlight these incidents and demand that our people do better by centering the voices of LGBTQ people, people of color, and indigenous and two-spirit folks.

 

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