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Evanston Elks unit to draft new policy

Lodge will recruit and encourage Latino membership

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An Elks Lodge in Evanston, Wyo., has agreed to come up with a new policy that doesn't discriminate, according to a Latino family that tried unsuccessfully to rent the facility.

"This is going to have a positive outcome," predicted Tony Yapias, director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs. Yapias, formerly of Evanston, became involved in the incident when his family tried to rent the Elks Lodge for their father's retirement party two weeks ago.

The family was told the lodge was no longer being rented to "Spanish-speaking people." In the past, according to lodge manager Lynn Nelson, several Latino groups had damaged lodge property. Nelson could not be reached for comment Friday night.

Yapias and his brother, James, met with Nelson and the lodge board's chairman earlier Friday. At the meeting, which Yapias said was cordial, the two groups decided to recruit and encourage Latino membership in the lodge and to host a "day of celebration" for the community. The lodge will also draft a new rental policy that will apply across the board, "so one group doesn't get discriminated against," said Yapias.

"The perception up there was that maybe he's a racist or he doesn't like Latinos," Yapias said about the Elks Lodge manager. Yapias said he realizes now that Nelson "felt that to protect the lodge he had to take some kind of action but he didn't know how."

The dispute, Yapias predicted, will end up uniting the Latino and Caucasian communities of Evanston.

It's important for the larger community to be careful of stereotyping people, Yapias said, and "I expect the Latino community to do its part, to be courteous and respect people's property." He added that on several occasions a few Latinos, mostly from out of town, had engaged in fights and had damaged property when they had rented the lodge for parties.

The Elks have tried to recruit Latino members in the past, with no luck. Yapias said he and others will encourage Latinos to join.

"I wish it wasn't my family that got picked on," Yapias said. But if had been someone else "it would probably not have made the news, and this (discrimination) would probably have gone on and on." The incident also "woke up people to other issues facing the community," such as the recent arrest of six Latinos in what Yapias called "entrapment" by police who had enlisted an informer to encourage Latinos to sell drugs in return for jobs.

"I'm more than hopeful that this is going to have a positive outcome," said Yapias of Friday's meeting. "At the table today, everyone was committed."

E-MAIL: jarvik@desnews.com