By Jasmine Hall
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., responded with an apology statement Monday after she was booed by students during her commencement speech Saturday at the University of Wyoming.
As she spoke about political discourse across the nation regarding rights guaranteed in the Constitution, she followed up with the remark, “Even fundamental scientific truths, such as the existence of two sexes, male and female, are subject to challenge these days.”
Students and attendees interrupted the UW alumni’s speech with loud boos, and Lummis paused and smiled amid the reaction. She tried to explain her comment, and then she received a second audible jeer from the audience.
“I’m not making a comment on the fact that there are those who transition between sexes,” she said before expressing her thoughts on government responses during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I personally question how, under our Constitution, we could forbid in-person worship services during the pandemic, while labeling liquor stores essential, and keeping them open.”
She finished her speech, and later addressed the reaction in a written statement emailed to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Monday. She said her intention with the reference to the “two sexes” was to highlight the times residents live in, where the “metric of biological sex is under debate with potential implications for the shared Wyoming value of equality.”
“I share the fundamental belief that women and men are equal, but also acknowledge that there are biological differences and circumstances in which these differences need to be recognized,” she stated. “That being said, it was never my intention to make anyone feel unwelcomed or disrespected, and for that I apologize.”
She concluded by saying she appreciated hearing from members of the UW community on the issue, and she looks forward to continuing the dialogue.
UW President Ed Seidel released his own statement on Sunday, welcoming diversity. He said the series of events showcased what makes the university special: its students, staff, faculty and their ability to openly embrace and debate complex issues.
“One of our speakers made remarks regarding biological sex that many on campus take issue with,” he said. “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.”
In a much longer statement, UW’s Inclusion Council responded to Lummis’ comments by challenging her assertion that what she said was a “scientific truth.”
“In accordance with the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, we affirm that humans may comprise various chromosomal variations, and not every person is strictly born female or male,” said the statement, signed by four members of the group. “Intersex members of our community who have diverse chromosomal makeup should be seen and recognized. Those of us on campus who work in this field understand this variance and diversity. Regardless of biological sex, gender has a wide variety of expression. Research and lived experience continue to reveal more about the connection and interaction of gender presentation and identity.”
The statement was signed by Kimberly Chestnut, interim vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and co-chair of the Inclusion Council; Jacquelyn Bridgeman, director of the School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice and co-chair of the Inclusion Council; Ryan O’Neil, dean of students; and Melanie Vigil, director of multicultural affairs.
It went on to say, “All sexes and genders are welcome at the University of Wyoming, and we deeply regret the harmful impact these words at our graduation ceremony may have had on those graduating as well as their families and friends. Senator Lummis made other statements that emphasize the challenge of creating truly inclusive environments in a state such as Wyoming. While, as a public institution, we respect the rights of free expression that were on display at Saturday’s graduation, we also understand that just because one may have the right to express a view, it does not mean one’s words have no effect, and unfortunately sometimes one’s words are harmful and marginalizing.”