News (USA)

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

A bench in front of the University of Wyoming Arts & Sciences building with a memorial plaque in honor of the late Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo.  The Matthew Shepard Foundation, based in Denver, applauds the move, noting that much has changed since the UW undergrad was killed in Laramie in 1998.
A bench in front of the University of Wyoming Arts & Sciences building with a memorial plaque in honor of the late Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo. The Matthew Shepard Foundation, based in Denver, applauds the move, noting that much has changed since the UW undergrad was killed in Laramie in 1998. AP

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Councilors Joe Vitale and Bryan Shuster cast the only no-votes against the ordinance. Both said they were concerned that the ordinance would trample on city residents’ religious freedoms.

“Enactment of this ordinance will result in discrimination complaints filed against business owners who are simply trying to run their business consistent with their faith,” Vitale said. The council rejected his suggestion that it postpone action on the matter until next year to give the U.S. Supreme Court and the Wyoming Legislature more time to act on the issue.

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 from Washington, D.C., Wednesday before the council vote. “Maybe the rest of Wyoming will understand this is about fellow human beings and not something that’s other than what they are.”

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, a Republican, 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.

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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.”

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