Inspirational, Out and Proud! – Jeran Artery – Bringing Real Equality to the Equality State

Roughly eight years ago I found the courage to finally come out! After growing up in a very conservative Christian family. I grew up being preached at that everything that was going on in my heart and mind was wrong and would ultimately lead to me burning in hell forever. I reached a breaking point. I didn’t care! I was willing to lose my friends, my family, and my job as I couldn’t live the lie any longer. My family was gathered for a big family celebration and I knew it was time to let everyone know about the secret I’d been hiding the last 36 years.

Luckily I found support! Most of my family and friends were supportive and encouraging and, luckily, my employer was also great! Unfortunately, I was in a heterosexual marriage at the time and I knew that I was going to break someone’s, heart. I also knew that marriage was not going to turn me hetero as I had thought and hoped it would some 16 years prior.

I loaded my belongings into my car and moved from little ‘ol Wheatland, WY. I was headed for the big city of Cheyenne and was ready for a new life. I made wonderful new friends by getting involved with the local theater and becoming active in a couple of friends campaigns who were running for local political offices.

I heard about a Wyoming pride event that involved a five-day campout in the Medicine Bow National Forrest. I was so excited to broaden my horizons and hopefully make some new like-minded friends. The campout changed my life forever! I was approached by the organizer of the event who also happened to be the board chair for the state’s largest LGBT organization, Wyoming Equality. He encouraged me to get involved and come to a board meeting.

After a couple of meetings, I joined the board as a director and was excited to help grow an organization that had already made a major impact on my short openly gay life. What I wasn’t expecting was a phone call a few months later from the board chair letting me know that he needed my help testifying at a legislative meeting concerning some ugly anti-LGBT legislation. I felt a lump in throat swell immediately. What did this even mean? I didn’t have a political bone in my body! Because of my theater, communications and speech/debate background, I wasn’t afraid of public speaking, but I knew nothing about the politics or the law-making process. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I don’t like to do anything that I’m not going to excel at, and I didn’t feel like I had the time to do my proper research about this whole process. They needed me to testify first thing the next morning. I knew I had to do it!

That committee meeting set a chain of events into motion and ignited a passion in me to the extent that I knew I had a bigger part to play in this whole equality movement. The next year, 2011, I was elected as board chairman. I wanted to make advocacy work a primary focus for Wyoming Equality. I felt the group, that had primarily been a social group, could grow and improve lives for all LGBT folks who call Wyoming (ironically The Equality State) home.

Over the next few years, we worked with our friendly lawmakers to introduce non-discrimination, civil union, domestic partnership, and marriage legislation in hopes that Wyoming could ultimately come a wee bit closer to actually becoming The Equality State.

I found our good work allowed us to start playing a bit more offense and whole lot less defense. The ugly bills seemed to be coming more sparingly and our positive, pro-active bills seemed to dominate the media headlines and helped to build our membership and financial base.

A wonderful side effect to all of this was we caught the attention of several national organizations who all wanted to know how they could help. After the 2013 legislative session, I set up a conference call with leaders from National Center for Lesbian Rights, HRC, Freedom to Marry, and Gill Action. We talked about what all these groups brought to the table and figured a plan that would have the biggest impact on LGBT Wyomingites.

When it came to marriage the decision was made to litigate. I found four plaintiff couples and along with Wyoming Equality, we filed Courage vs. Wyoming in March of 2014. During the litigation, I took consulting contracts with HRC and Freedom to Marry. We help town halls all around the state educating our members and allies about what was at stake and titled our meetings, “The state of equality in The Equality State!”

We also built many coalitions that included Lawyers for the freedom to marry, Clergy for the freedom to marry, Elected officials for the freedom to marry, Business owners for the freedom to marry, and others. We dominated the headlines in the months that followed and ultimately we won our case in October of 2014 and on October 24th same-sex marriages began in Wyoming.

Since then we have continued to fight for non-discrimination protections from the local to the state level. We continue to introduce legislation every year and have managed to help coordinate local efforts in Laramie, Casper, Gillette, Douglas, Rock Springs and Jackson Hole to pass several resolutions and one ordinance concerning non-discrimination protections.

I have recently just stepped away from Wyoming Equality as chair and board member. I never want an organization to get stale because I decided to stick around too long. New blood and new ideas are always a good thing and I will continue to volunteer my time, money and knowledge to help grow this organization and move Wyoming in the correct direction and help make this state a better place for all LGBT folks who call her home.

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