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17 years after Matt Shepard’s murder, Laramie, Wyo., passes measure to protect LGBT residents

Laramie, Wyo.
Laramie, Wyo.

LARAMIE, Wyo. — When Matthew Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead 17 years ago, his murder became a rallying cry in the gay rights movement.

Other states adopted stricter laws against violence and discrimination, and Congress passed hate crimes legislation bearing Shepard’s name.

Matt Shepard
Matt Shepard Matthew Shepard Foundation, via AP

Yet in Wyoming, advocates have tried unsuccessfully for years statewide to pass protections for gays in housing and the workplace. They finally scored a victory Wednesday after trying a different approach: a local ordinance in the college town where Shepard was killed.

The Laramie City Council on Wednesday approved a local anti-discrimination ordinance. It voted 7-2 in favor of the measure that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and access to public facilities such as restaurants.

“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,” said Jeran Artery, head of the group Wyoming Equality, which has lobbied for anti-discrimination measures at the state Legislature.

“And I would really encourage other communities across the state to follow Laramie’s lead,” Artery said.

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.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, is a lesbian and a professor in the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Wyoming. She has pushed legislation repeatedly to try to pass an anti-discrimination bill at the state level.

“I wasn’t going to get up and say anything tonight, but I decided I have to,” Connolly said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I’m so proud to be a resident of Wyoming tonight, and a member of this community.”

Laramie Mayor Dave Paulekas spoke in favor of the amendment before the council vote.

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“To me, this is about treating people fairly, it’s about treating people the way I would want to be treated, the way we all expect to be treated,” Paulekas said. “And it’s nothing more than that, in my mind.”

Paulekas said that if Laramie wants to see economic development, it has to be aware that high-tech firms are going to look at how the city treats its citizens.

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