LARAMIE, Wyo. – The Laramie City Council on Wednesday approved a local anti-discrimination ordinance in the college town where Matthew Shepard’s death triggered nationwide sympathy and brought a re-examination of attitudes toward gays 17 years ago.
The council voted 7-2 in favour of the measure that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and access to public facilities such as restaurants.
Local organizers focused their efforts on Laramie after the Legislature repeatedly rejected anti-discrimination bills, most recently early this year. The Laramie Nondiscrimination Task Force presented a draft ordinance to the City Council last summer, founding group member Will Welch said.
“My opinion is that LGBT people should have civil rights throughout the nation, really,” Welch said. “So since the state wasn’t looking like it was able to do anything, I said, ‘Let’s do it in Laramie.'”
Shepard, a gay university student, was murdered in Laramie in 1998, and his death became a rallying point in the gay rights movement. Congress has passed hate crimes legislation bearing his name.
Judy Shepard, Matt Shepard’s mother, is active in a Denver-based foundation that bears her son’s name and focuses on equality issues.
“I’m thrilled that Laramie’s doing it, at the same time sort of saddened that the state of Wyoming can’t see fit to do that as well,” Shepard told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday from Washington, D.C. “Maybe the rest of Wyoming will understand this is about fellow human beings and not something that’s other than what they are.”
Judy Shepard said some people are still under the misconception that what happened to her son is typical of what happens in Wyoming.
“But I feel like if Wyoming had done more to open the door to acceptance, that kind of reputation would have disappeared very quickly,” said Shepard, herself a Wyoming resident. “Instead of taking advantage of the moment, they just sort of turned around and ran.”
Gov. Matt Mead last year went to court to defend Wyoming’s gay marriage ban before federal court rulings from other states blocked the state from further action.
And a handful of Wyoming lawmakers this spring filed a brief urging the nation’s highest court to reject same-sex marriage on the grounds that forcing states to accept it would violate other citizens’ free-speech rights.
Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, voted against the anti-discrimination bill this year and was among those who endorsed the U.S. Supreme Court brief.
“I suppose it’s their right as a city,” Kroeker said of Laramie’s proposal. But he noted such measures grant special privileges to one group over another — an idea he doesn’t support.
Asked about his thoughts on such an ordinance passing in the city where Shepard was killed, Kroeker said: “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.”