Seventeen years have passed since Matthew Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming. His murder reverberated across the nation, inspiring advocates to work even harder to move the dial on gay rights and protections.
And seventeen years later, the town of Laramie has finally passed a local anti-discrimination ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and access to public facilities such as restaurants.
But why the town of roughly 30,000 people and not the entire state? Not for lack of trying.
For years, lawmakers have been trying to pass statewide protections for gays in housing and the workplace, but the Republican-dominated state legislature (there are currently 26 Republicans and only 4 Democrats) hasn’t been an easy crowd.
“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,” Matthew’s mother-turned-advocate Judy Shepard told the AP. “Maybe the rest of Wyoming will understand this is about fellow human beings and not something that’s other than what they are.”
Gov. Matt Mead (R) has adamantly worked to keep same-sex marriage out of the state, going to court last year to defend Wyoming’s gay marriage ban before federal judges.
Given the state’s political landscape, the small victory in Laramie is a victory nonetheless.
Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, a lesbian and a professor in the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Wyoming who has worked on statewide anti-discrimination campaigns, said, “I’m so proud to be a resident of Wyoming tonight, and a member of this community.”