Seventeen years after college student Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered, the Wyoming town that inspired a national conversation about the treatment of LGBT Americans has approved a law to help protect its gay citizens.
The ordinance passed Wednesday evening by the Laramie City Council bars employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It also protects the college town’s LGBT residents from being discriminated against when trying to gain housing or use public facilities, according to the Associated Press.
“I’m thrilled that Laramie’s doing it,” Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard, told the AP, expressing her sadness that similar legislation had not yet been passed at a state level. “Maybe the rest of Wyoming will understand this is about fellow human beings and not something that’s other than what they are.”
In October 1988, Matthew Shepard was abducted by two men in the dark of night. The then 21-year-old was tied to a fence, beaten with a pistol and left for dead. His murder inspired the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a national law barring discrimination based on gender, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation that was signed into law by President Obama in 2009.
“We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits – not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear,” Obama said at the reception commemorating the enactment of the law.
The final vote by the Laramie City Council was 7-2, according to the AP. The two councilors who vote no voiced concerns about religious freedoms. Conservative legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas recently faced national backlash after passing measures protecting religious liberty, while critics said the measures could sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians.
The events that took place in Laramaie were recorded in Moises Kaufman’s 2000 play The Laramie Project. HBO released a film version starring Laura Linney that went on to win the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Television Movie, according to IMDB.