GILLETTE — A social media campaign targeting a transgender magician and comic escalated to threats that prompted the cancellation of a pair of family-friendly shows scheduled this week for the Campbell County Public Library branches in Gillette and Wright.
Magician and comedienne Mikayla Oz and library staff were threatened and harassed to the point where the performances were called off as a safety concern.
Oz, a 24-year-old from Des Moines, Iowa, is a transgender woman. Her performances in Campbell County became the target of a vocal group of residents that complained last week about the library recognizing June as Pride Month.
Although initially willing to do her show, which she said is family friendly and doesn't have a LGBTQ message, Oz said that she began to get threats online and via telephone. One threatening call from an unknown man made her decide it wouldn't be safe for herself or kids to go on with the show.
“A gentleman said, ‘We don’t want you in this f-----g town. You’re not welcomed here. And if you come here there are going to be issues.’ And then hung up,” she said.
She also said she received an email from a Gillette resident Monday night that read, “You ain’t f-----g welcome in Gillette.”
“That’s when I realized for the safety of myself and the safety of the kids and the library patrons, I didn’t want to put my safety and (the safety of) those around me at risk,” Oz said.
Library Director Terri Lesley said her staff also has been threatened.
On Monday, a man unknown to the library staff walked in and made threatening comments ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled performance.
“I don’t have the exact verbiage that was used, but it made the circulation desk staff uncomfortable and worried,” Lesley said. “He walked in, made a statement, and walked out about, you know, ‘You should close the library; it’s not safe here’ type of statement.”
Oz’s gender identity was not previously known by the library, nor something it considers relevant, Lesley said.
“We don’t know personal details of our performers,” Lesley said. “And we shouldn’t. That’s not what we’re about here in America.”
Also, Oz said the show was booked almost a year ago and nothing was ever said about it being any different than her regular family performance. She also said the shows she was going to put on in Gillette and Wright have nothing to do with promoting LGBTQ or other lifestyles.
"I'm an entertainer," she said. "I have different kinds of shows and show levels. This was going to be my family show."
That Oz's self-identification wasn't an issue in her being hired or in her show hasn't been believed by many online. One Facebook post by Cheryl Kucera Vomhof said, “Leave our kids alone. Don’t trans our kids!” The post, made before the decision to cancel, was calling residents to protest the shows.
Another post by Vomhof said, “The key to shutting down the transsexual magic show at the Gillette library is Commissioner Bob Maul.” She then gave his cellphone number and implored people to, “Call him today. This could be coming to YOUR library.”
Vomhof did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted via Facebook.
“In 2021, to see that this is still happening just really breaks my heart,” Oz said. “I thought we were way past this point. To see this is going on in smaller communities really saddens me.”
Other Facebook posts, like numerous of those by an account claiming to be “Bobby Laumer,” which sports a photograph of Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones as its profile picture and gives no other identifying information or indication that the user is a Campbell County resident, posted several times in reference to Oz’s upcoming performance.
One long post that was shared by Vomhof on her own Facebook page included a long list of inaccurate and false claims regarding Oz and her performance, including that show was "sexualizing minors" and equated being transgendered to pedophilia.
The user behind Laumer’s account posted a link in which the user said he’d spoken at the recent Campbell County Commissioners meeting last week at which numerous residents expressed their opposition to the library offering LGBTQ books and that the clip began at 14:48 on the recording.
At that time-stamp on the video of the meeting, no Bobby Laumer was identified but rather a man by the name Kevin Bennett, whose Facebook page had numerous interactions with Laumer’s account.
The user claiming to be Laumer declined to comment on the posts or the cancellation of Oz's show when he was reached via Facebook. Then, the user blocked the News Record reporter who'd reached out.
When Bennett was asked if he controlled the Laumer account on Facebook, he neither confirmed nor denied that he controlled the account. He also declined to comment on the cancellation of the show, saying he didn't feel like he could trust the media.
Many local residents also offered messages of support and encouragement for Oz and the library.
A range of outcry came from the community at last week's commissioner meeting, from calls for censorship to accusations of the library pushing a “queer agenda.”
Before receiving threats, Oz said she was still planning to perform in Gillette and Wright.
“I’ve never had this exact thing happen before,” Oz said. “In my magic show, I never talk about me being trans. My show is purely a family friendly magic show. It was disheartening to hear that all of this was used to propagate something that was not necessarily related to me.”
In light of the threats and planned protests, Oz was the one to cancel the show, Lesley said.
“I want to make it very clear that the Campbell County library has been exceptional with how they treated me and how they responded to everything,” Oz said. “They tried their hardest to make things work.”
She said that at first, the complaints and harassment weren't too bad. But it quickly turned violent, personal and "frightening." She said she was labeled a pedophile and accused of grooming young children.
Lesley praised Oz’s demeanor and response to the incident.
“I can tell you that we expressed our dismay and extended our apologies for the things that people are saying and the threats she received,” Lesley said. “She knows and she let us know that she knows it’s not the staff and that it’s not the whole community. She understands that, and she was very gracious about it. We extended our apologies on behalf of our community.”
Lesley said that many of those commenting on Facebook believed that the library knew that Oz was a transgender woman and that it was the library’s intent to bring a performer for the express purpose of talking about transgender issues.
“That’s just absolutely not true,” Lesley said.
Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King expressed disappointment with the entire dust-up.
“It was very disheartening to see that someone did not feel welcomed in our community,” Carter-King said. “We feel everyone should feel welcomed in our community. It was very disappointing.”
She reiterated that the city has passed anti-discrimination resolutions and that it also recognizes Pride Month.
“We are kind and we are accepting, and I feel that is not represented in what has happened with the library,” Carter-King said.
Karin Ebertz, the president of the Gillette chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), expressed dismay over the latest development at the library. She’d had to endure the coughs, comments and chuckles from the crowd last week as she addressed the commissioners to say she supports the library “for having the courage to put that information and books out there.”
“I am disheartened,” Ebertz said. “But there’s also a part of me that is angry.”
The cancellation of Oz’s performance came not only after the public outcry over LGBTQ books and calls for censorship in Gillette, but also the revelation that a bar in Cheyenne was selling homophobic T-shirts advocating that Wyomingites had found a cure to AIDS by shooting homosexuals.
She worries about these controversies making Wyoming look to outsiders.
“It makes the community look intolerant,” Ebertz said. “Certain companies may not want to move here because of what they read about those attitudes. I’m very concerned about that. We’re better than that. That’s not who we are.”
“We plan to proceed with the rest of our summer reading programs,” Lesley said. “They have been well-attended to date and we’re expecting the same result. We have received a lot of support. The people who stop and say, ‘Hey, we support you; you guys are the best.’ I have received emails and phone calls. It’s definitely a lot more positive out there, personally for me and for the staff, than we expected, so that has really helped us.”
Lesley said that the support of the community helps her and the library staff through difficult times.
“We’re going to stand strong,” she said. “We’re going to move forward and continue with our programs and continue to support democracy, inclusion and diversity. We are a community, and we are a library that serves its entire community.”
When Oz was 4 years old, she said the first magic show she ever attended was at a public library, with those venues holding a special place for her still. After watching that magician perform 20 years ago, she checked out books on magic and has been practicing since.
“It kind of breaks my heart. This is what I do full time. Being an entertainer living through a pandemic, last year was a rough year for me,” Oz said. “It’s been a really good year up to this point.
"It just breaks my heart, especially when my show has absolutely nothing to do with my back story at all.”
Since the cancellation, Oz said that she has had Campbell County residents reach out to her to apologize and show that the protestors do not speak for the whole community.
In June, she said she performed more than 40 shows with about 30 scheduled for July so far. Despite the unexpected backlash, she said she would not be opposed to returning to Campbell County one day under better circumstances.
“I would love to come back,” Oz said. “Maybe some day.”