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City where Matthew Shepard was slain OKs protection for gays, lesbians

City where Matthew Shepard was slain, Laramie, Wyo., OKs protections for gays, lesbians

The Laramie City Council on Wednesday approved an anti-discrimination ordinance in the college town where Matthew Shepard's slaying 17 years ago triggered nationwide sympathy and brought a reexamination of attitudes toward gays.

The council voted 7 to 2 in favor of the measure to prohibit 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 Wyoming 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, his 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.

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