The University of Wyoming celebrated its spring commencement ceremony Saturday afternoon in Laramie, providing nearly 2,000 students with a day they’ll never forget.
Collective traditions notwithstanding—from the roll call of names to students walking across the stage to parting words from several dignitaries—they undoubtedly will remember first and foremost the speech from conservative Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis.
Lummis’ mention of gender midway through her keynote riled up at least a portion of the crowd, who booed and jeered her for this comment: “Even fundamental scientific truths such as the existence of two sexes, male and female, are subject to challenge these days,” in discussing individual rights, government intervention, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
While much of Lummis’ talk—which she said would be brief but ran for more than 17 minutes—focused on the central themes of parenting and care for others, how the information age is poised to outsmart all of us and how we are all “keepers of the flames of liberty,” that one line sparked a strong response from some in the audience. One Wyoming professor wrote on Twitter that there were chants telling her to get off the stage.
Lummis managed a wry smile and kept going, saying, “I personally question how, under our Constitution, we could forbid in-person worship services during a pandemic while labeling liquor stores as essential and keeping them open, and how the creation of a government disinformation board is not an affront to free speech.”
Lummis, a junior senator in a state that also has the most progressive Republican in Liz Cheney, has been a vocal critic of the Biden Administration and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). She has weighed in strongly on a number of hot-button national issues, denouncing student loan forgiveness and Roe vs. Wade, although she said recently she is in favor of Americans having freedom of speech to protest Roe if they want to. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance has named Lummis in its Accountability Project, which tracks “anti-LBGTQ words and action from politicians” and others.
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Though her early words were welcomed with applause—“The world needs more Cowboys”—her comment on the two sexes did not sit well with some in the Wyoming community, which has made deep inroads to provide a welcoming and safe atmosphere for all students, led by its Rainbow Resource Center on campus.
“It’s incredibly disappointing to be a student at UW right now,” one University of Wyoming student wrote in the comment section of the video on YouTube. “Not only was someone invited who advocates for government control of women’s bodies, but you guys also let her be transphobic in her speech after a trans student at UW committed suicide in the dorms this past fall semester. You should be ashamed of yourselves. UW always preaches about community and striving together to be better, but it still always fails to defend its student population against people/groups who have the intention to or are actively committing harmful behavior towards the UW student population.”
After her speech, President Ed Seidel thanked Lummis and said, “We deeply appreciate [before pausing and looking at the crowd] your thoughts today.” Lummis received a mix of cheers and jeers upon exiting. With backlash building on social media, Seidel on Sunday felt it necessary to release this statement:
“On Saturday, the university celebrated spring 2022 commencement with a series of events that showcased the best of what makes us special: our students, our staff, our faculty and our ability to openly embrace and debate complex issues. One of our speakers made remarks regarding biological sex that many on campus take issue with. While we respect the right of all to express their views, from students to elected officials, we unequivocally state that UW is an institution that supports and celebrates its diverse communities that collectively make us the wonderful place that we are. Thank you to the many students and families who celebrated with us this weekend. We welcome the incredible individuality and intellect of all our dynamic and diverse students and never want you to feel otherwise.”
Individuals from the LGBTQ community are far more likely to consider suicide, a number that has reached nearly 60% among transgender men and Wyoming has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. However, it is also a staunchly conservative state, save for urban areas. During the last presidential election, it voted 70% Republican and only 26.5% Democrat, with the majority of its voters leaning falling in line with conservative ideologies.