Laramie, Wyoming, Passes Crucial Anti-Discrimination Law 17 Years After Matthew Shepard's Death

Nearly two decades ago, Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming. On Wednesday of this week, the effects of Shepard’s gruesome death on the Wyoming town finally came to a peak when an anti-LGBT discrimination measure passed in Laramie. The Laramie City Council voted 7-2 to pass an ordinance that ban discrimination by housing employment or public facilities on the basis of sexual orientation. While this measure would be a big deal anywhere, as LGBT rights continues to emerge as an increasingly important issue, this ordinance is an especially big deal in the town of Laramie.

When Shepard was beaten to death 17 years ago, the gay rights movement took notice. For example, Denver has a gay rights group called The Matthew Shepard Foundation. Congress passed legislation on hate crimes that bore Shepard’s name. Various states passed stricter anti-discrimination laws. Wyoming, however, did nothing.

The lack of response to Shepard’s brutal death was not for lack of trying, though. According to the Associated Press, Wyoming gay rights advocates have been trying to pass statewide legislation protecting gays for years now. However, it was not until Wednesday that these attempts met any success. The measure passed by the Laramie City Council on Wednesday is the first of its kind to be passed in the state of Wyoming.

However, the legislation that passed was a small-scale win compared to what local organizers originally set their sights on. After the Wyoming Legislature repeatedly rejected anti-discrimination bills — the most recent rejection took place earlier this year — organizers focused their efforts solely on the town of Laramie. Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard, told the Associated Press that while she is excited about the progress in Laramie, she is disappointed that the rest of Wyoming has not followed suit.

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. 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 rest of the state’s hesitancy is definitely disheartening, the legislation in Laramie is a big step in the right direction. Activists hope that Laramie’s decision to pass legislation will inspire other communities to do the same, thus creating a domino effect.