Just a few miles from the murder site of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student who was killed in a hate crime against the LGBTQ community, a motorcycle bar believed to profit from the city’s homophobia. For years, the owner of Eagle’s Nest, located in Cheyenne, sold T-shirts that read, “In Wyoming, we have a cure for AIDS. We shot fucking fags. “In addition to the text, the shirt shows a man in a motorcycle jacket pointing a gun.
The t-shirts attracted national attention after their photos circulated on Facebook, prompting members of equality groups in the state to reach out to the bar’s owner. According to The Washington PostSara Burlingame, CEO of Wyoming Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group, confronted the bar owner about the t-shirts when she first noticed them, but couldn’t get him to stop selling them.
“We are saddened to say that we were unable to convince a local bar to withdraw these shirts from circulation,” Wyoming Equality said in a Facebook post on Saturday. “We were hoping that they would choose to stop selling them when they realized the damage it did to the LGBTQ community and people living with AIDS.”
At the time of publication, the organization did not mention the name of the bar for fear of “the sad reality that giving them visibility will help them sell more shirts. I’m not in the business of helping fans make money off the pain of my community, ”Burlingame said in a press release Monday.
But despite Wyoming Equality not mentioning the name, the bar sold out the shirts and Ray Bereziuk, the bar owner, said The Cheyenne Post On Monday he was not planning to sell any more shirts because he is “in the bar business, not in the clothing business.” The fact that he no longer wanted to sell them because he was sold instead of stopping when Burlingame requested it reflects the ideology that Bereziuk must have. Bereziuk did not mention why he was not rearranging the jerseys, but shared that he would not give in to pressure from social media.
In a comment on its original Facebook post, Wyoming Equality said it was working with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization, to contact the bar’s alcohol distributors and “see if they agree to work with an establishment that sells these types of items. “
According to The Cheyenne Post, Bereziuk began selling them in 1998 after Shepard’s murder. Shepard was beaten, robbed, and then tied to a barbed wire fence and left to die in 1998. His murder prompted state and federal lawmakers to pass hate crime bills across the country. However, Wyoming has not passed any anti-hate legislation.
In an interview with the Tribune of the stars, Shepard’s mother noted this, lamenting that the state had 22 years to pass hate crime legislation, but has not.
“It is time for Wyoming to face reality and recognize that we are losing our youth, our economic potential and our soul. The time to take a stand is now, not after another family loses their child,” he said.
This is not the first bar to sell offensive shirts, the mail reported. The Parallel Wine & Whiskey Bar in Virginia received backlash for selling t-shirts that read “Drunk Wives Matter” in June 2020. The t-shirts followed the murder of George Floyd, sparking worldwide protests against racial injustice under the movement. Black Lives Matter. The bar stopped selling the t-shirts.
Despite the lack of hate crime bills in the state, the response has been strong and supportive of the LGBTQ community. “Every year, the city receives about 3 million visitors from all walks of life. Come to Cheyenne and discover the history of equality, ingenuity and hospitality in our city and state. This type of shirt does not represent the community we live in, ”said Domenic Bravo, director of Visit Cheyenne, in a press release.
Several state legislators from all political parties have also condemned the jerseys in public statements, including the Governor of Wyoming. Mark Gordon, Republican.
“It is incredibly disheartening to know that any company would offer a product for sale with a message like this,” Gordon said in a statement to The Casper Star Tribune. “This hurtful rhetoric does not reflect the values of our state and does nothing more than promote hatred and division.”
We can only hope that this anger the community is expressing will encourage lawmakers to finally make a move on anti-LGBTQ legislation in the state.
Despite clearly present hurtful rhetoric, Burlingame said this is an opportunity for people in Wyoming to be inspired and take action to protect LGBTQ people in their state. “Do you want to make being a fanatic unpopular? Donate to Wyoming Equality or Wyoming AIDS Assistance. Place a pride flag in your business or home. Wear one of our cool AF t-shirts. Pass a hate crime bill. Invest in queer joy and stamina, ”he wrote on Facebook. Let those who hate hate in their own misery. Keep Wyoming weird and wild. “