Nearly 20 Years After Matthew Shepard’s Murder, Casper, Wyoming, Hosts Its First Pride

"It's a good thing for Casper—and Wyoming."

Most of us first heard of Casper, Wyoming, in relation to Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old from Casper who was brutally murdered in 1998 because he was gay.

So perhaps its not surprising the town of 59,000 hasn’t had a Pride celebration before. It’s located firmlu Trump land, with no visible gayborhood to energize LGBT residents.

But that changed this month, when the first Casper Pride celebration was held from June 8 to 11.


“I grew up here and I felt like I never wanted to live here,” local activist and artist Betsy Bower told MTV News. “Two years ago, I was just like, ‘What the hell is going on with the LGBTQ community? Who does the things? Where is anything?’”


Bower became active in the local PFLAG chapter, but saw a real generational divide with manye younger LGBT people feeling unspoken to. With some hard work, she, Out in Wyoming founder Gage Willams and others have worked to change that. “We became family with them over the past two years,” she boasts.



The four-day festival started with a free all-ages film festival Thursday night at United Church of Christ, an inclusive house of worship. There was a hoedown on Friday night, a “Pride in the Park” celebration Saturday at Crossroads Park (complete with live music and fashion show), followed by a drag revue that even the mayor attended. (There’s not a gay bar in 50 miles of Casper, so the event was held at Backwards Distilling Co, a straight bar.).


Then, on Sunday, hundreds of LGBT people and allies marched through from City Park to Frontier Park for Casper’s first Pride march—coinciding with the Equality March in Washington, D.C. “There’s a lot of support today,” one attendee told KTWO News. “It’s a good thing for Casper—and Wyoming.”



In a bit of bittersweet synchronicity, a week later and about 115 miles away, Laramie also held its first Pridefest. The two towns are forever linked by tragedy, but perhaps this is the beginning of a new age.

“There is still this perception Wyoming represents what happened 20 years ago with Matthew Shepard,” Pridefest organizer Robert West told Wyoming Public Media. “And I think Laramie and Wyoming have a long ways to go to be fully inclusive and accepting of LGBT people, but it’s important that this Pridefest is happening in Laramie to show that there has been movement; there has been growth.”

Still, he adds, while Pridefest was a time to celebrate “it’s also important to know where we come from. And to know that violence against queer bodies and LGBT people is a still a huge reality not only in Wyoming and America but across the world.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.