LARAMIE – The City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday night that will protect gay and transgender people from discrimination at work, in housing and in public places such as restaurants.
Laramie is the first city in Wyoming to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance since lawmakers defeated a bill in February that would have provided statewide protections. Same-sex marriage became legal in the state by court order in October.
The nondiscrimination ordinance, which passed 7 to 2, will go into effect by the end of the month.
During Wednesday's council meeting, Laramie residents and council members recalled the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998, which brought national attention to the southeastern Wyoming town. Shepard was punched, pistol whipped and tied to a cattle fence for being gay.
Councilwoman Vicki Henry said Laramie has a reputation for being unkind to gay and transgender people.
“Whether that is correct or incorrect, that is still the reputation,” she said. “Let’s right that wrong.”
The seven-page ordinance outlines a process for gay and transgender people to file a complaint with the city. The city manager will assign an investigator to look into the matter. The accused will have an opportunity to respond, according to the ordinance.
If there is discrimination, the investigator will first try to find a remedy -- such as a person attending sensitivity training, a workplace adopting a nondiscrimination policy or an agreement by the accused to not discriminate in the future.
If the accused doesn't enter into the conciliatory agreement, the case will be turned over to the city attorney's office. That person would face up to $750 in fines and up to six months behind bars, the ordinance states.
Laramie High School student Rihanna Kelver, a transgender woman, switches back to her legal name, Ryan, at work for fear of discrimination. She needs the job to help her mother with expenses, she said.
Kelver is open about her gender identity at school, where she is a leader in Laramie High’s gay-straight alliance and says teachers and students are supportive, but is in the closet at work. She plans to legally change her name this summer, she said.
“Now I know I can fully live my life as Rihanna,” Kelver said after the vote. “It’s a tremendous relief.”
The vast majority of residents and council members spoke in favor of the ordinance during the two-hour special meeting.
Council members Joe Vitale and Bryan Shuster voted against it. Both said they were concerned about the rights of religious people who disagree with homosexuality.
Vitale wanted to postpone the council’s vote on the measure until March 22, 2016, after the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the legality of gay marriage. But the majority of the council opposed that idea.
Vitale noted anti-discrimination failed in the Wyoming House.
“The state Legislature in January and February mulled over this issue,” he said. “There’s a collection of some of our finest legal and political minds in this state.”
Councilman Paul Weaver noted the anti-discrimination bill passed the conservative state Senate before failing in the House. He quoted Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, who said times have changed and it is now 2015.
“I’m happy to vote with the majority of the Wyoming Senate on this issue,” Weaver said.
Mayor Dave Paulekas supported the ordinance, saying it was good for economic development, especially as the town tries to attract high-tech companies, which prefer progressive communities.
Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, is Wyoming’s only openly gay lawmaker. She was happy Laramie passed the ordinance. Wyoming still needs a statewide anti-discrimination law, she said, and lawmakers may get the message that Wyomingites want a law when protections are enacted at the local level.
“They’ll also see how these ordinances work,” she said.