Laramie, Wyoming – the town where gay college student Matthew Shepard was fatally beaten in 1998 – passed an ordinance Wednesday prohibiting the discrimination of the LGBT community in housing, employment and public businesses. Laramie City Council passed the measure 7-2 in the college town that became the epicenter of the gay rights movement after Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was beaten and left for dead in October 1998.
“I’m thrilled that Laramie’s doing it, [yet] at the same time sort of saddened that the state of Wyoming can’t see fit to do that as well,” Matthew’s mother Judy Shepard told The Associated Press. “Maybe the rest of Wyoming will understand this is about fellow human beings and not something that’s other than what they are.”
While the new measure passed easily in Laramie, convincing the state of Wyoming as a whole to adopt similar anti-discriminatory laws has been a struggle. Wyoming Equality, a group fighting for similar measures statewide, attempted to get the state legislature to pass a similar ordinance to Laramie’s bill. When those efforts were rebuffed, Wyoming Equality instead focused on Laramie. The group is named, in part, after Wyoming’s nickname the Equality State, so named for its pioneering attitude toward women’s suffrage.
“What a day for Wyoming, and what a day for the city that became synonymous with Matthew Shepard’s murder to now step up and do this right thing,” Jean Artery, head of Wyoming Equality, told the AP. “And I would really encourage other communities across the state to follow Laramie’s lead.”
There’s still much work to be done, however, as Governor Matt Mead went to court last year to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. The two Laramie councilors who voted against the anti-discrimination bill cited their concern for protecting its citizens’ religious freedoms, vocabulary that was previously used when Indiana passed their controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “The Matt Shepard case was a tragedy, but I don’t see how an anti-discrimination ordinance would have stopped somebody from committing that heinous crime,” said Rep. Kendell Kroeker.