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17 Years After Matthew Shepard's Murder, Laramie Passes LGBT Protections

The city became the first in Wyoming to adopt an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

Reprinted from the Advoate – BY TRUDY RING

MAY 14 2015 4:45 PM ET

In 1998 gay college student Matthew Shepard as brutally beaten and left for dead on a fence like this one near Laramie.In 1998 gay college student Matthew Shepard as brutally beaten and left for dead on a fence like this one near Laramie.

The town where Matthew Shepard became the victim of a deadly antigay hate crime in 1998 — Laramie, Wyo., — has become the first municipality in the state to adopt an LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination law.

The Laramie City Council passed the ordinance last night by a vote of 7-2, the Associated Press reports. It bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and it sets up a process for filing discrimination complaints, which the city will then investigate. The ordinance will go into effect by the end of this month.

“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,” Jeran Artery, head of the LGBT rights group Wyoming Equality, told the AP. “And I would really encourage other communities across the state to follow Laramie’s lead.”

Efforts to enact a similar law on a statewide basis have failed repeatedly, most recently inFebruary. “I’m thrilled that Laramie’s [adopting an antidiscrimination law], at the same time sort of saddened that the state of Wyoming can’t see fit to do that as well,” Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, 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.”

Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, was beaten and left for dead on a fence on the outskirts of town by two men he met in a bar. He died a few days later at a hospital in Colorado. His death became a rallying point for LGBT rights activists, and federal hate-crimes law bears his name as well as that of James Byrd Jr., an African-American murdered in a racially motivated attack in Texas, also in 1998.

Judy Shepard, a longtime Wyoming resident, said her son’s murder doesn’t indicate that Wyoming residents are generally homophobic, but acting more quickly on hate-crimes law could have improved the state’s reputation. “I feel like if Wyoming had done more to open the door to acceptance, that kind of reputation would have disappeared very quickly,” she told the AP. “Instead of taking advantage of the moment, they just sort of turned around and ran.”

State Rep. Kendall Kroeker, who voted against the statewide antidiscrimination bill, objected to the crime being brought into the discussion. “The Matt Shepard case was a tragedy, but I don’t see how an antidiscrimination ordinance would have stopped somebody from committing that heinous crime,” he told the news service. Kroeker was also one of several Wyoming legislators who signed onto a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject marriage equality, claiming it would interfere with citizens’ free speech rights.

The two Laramie council members who voted against the local antidiscrimination ordinance said they worried it would interfere with religious freedom, the AP reports. “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,” said one of them, Joe Vitale.

'The Laramie Project'

The Matthew Shepard Story

The Matthew Shepard Story

The story of Matthew Shepard
Location and Time:  Thursday 1st August 2012, the Metropolitan Arts Centre theatre; an intimate theatre of approximately 112 seats.

The play was ‘The Laramie Project’ which was written by Moses Kaufmann and members of the Tyectonic Theater Project, but our production was performed and orchestrated by the Dundonald Association of Music and Drama (DAMD) sponsored by the Police Service of N Ireland (PSNI) and The Rainbow Project.
The Laramie Project is a verbatim play about the reaction to the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998; The Angels during the rallyhe was a young gay man who was robbed, viciously beaten and left tied to a fence to die. Although he was soon found by the police and hospitalized, he soon expired.  Matthew was a student in Laramie, Wyoming and this play is based on a series of interviews conducted with Laramie residents in the aftermath of his murder.  Matthew’s murder focused attention on the lack of hate crime legislation in various states including Wyoming.
DAMD were formed in July 2009 by Melissa Smith.  DAMD’s artistic mission is to engage their community in theatre that makes you think or blink with tears).  ‘If we can inspire, nurture, challenge, amaze, educate or empower artists and audiences b y providing a quality performing arts experience then we retire happily with our bedtime cocoa.’

The stage setting consisted of eight chairs with a ‘goodies’ box beside each containing various individual props, and a stand for the presenter who guided us through the performance.
The performance was riveting, and it indeed did bring this audience member to tears as he remembered the harrowing news items from the time, and how utterly soul destroying the story was as it unfolded, including the trial.  The subsequent theatre production and also the movie release with of the Laramie Project and also the Matthew Shepard Story with Sam Waterston as the father of Matthew kept the story alive and in people minds, and continued to pile pressure on the USA legislature and government and local states.
DAMD’s performance was startling real, the accents were faultless ( at least to my ears), and the minimlist stage setting helped to focus attention on the dialogue, the speakers and the story.
The Laramie Project is often used as a method to teach about prejudice and tolerance in personal, social, and health education and citizenship in schools, and it has also been used in the UK as a General Certificate of Secondary Education text for English literature.  Having just been to an event during Belfast Pride about how our N Ireland Library Service for Schools is currently unable to provide the service needed for LGBT youth, and that a survey of LGBT books in school libraries only returned one item throughout Northern Ireland, it would seem that we need to put on more productions of this play, and especially try to get it seen within our school and college systems.

 

Further links:

  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Laramie_Project” blank=”true”]The Laramie Project[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Laramie_Project_%28film%29″ blank=”true”]The Laramie Project (film)[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Matthew_Shepard_Story” blank=”true”]The Matthew Shepard Story[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”camera” url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiKBv29xvS8″ blank=”true”]Youtube: The Matthew Shepard Story [/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”camera” url=”Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1qiTmF0p4A” blank=”true”]The Laramie Project[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”http://www.laramieproject.org/” blank=”true” colour=”green”]The Laramie Project Website & Charity[/button_icon]