This week's Supreme Court ruling shielding LGBTQ employees from discrimination effectively evens out a patchwork of protections in the Mountain West.
States like Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico already have employment protections across the board. But Montana only has partial protections for LGBTQ residents, while Wyoming doesn't have any.
For some, this decision, and the ensuing protections, came as a surprise.
“I expected, and I dreaded and anticipated with a lot of certainty the opposite result,” said Sara Burlingame, a Wyoming legislator who heads the LQBTQ and Two Spirit advocacy group Wyoming Equality.
“I felt like hope was too fragile a thing,” she added. “We could not have anticipated an unequivocal win. It shocked the boots off of me.”
Burlingame said this is one of the rare times her highly Republican and libertarian state has left a decision to the feds.
“My colleagues have said, 'Well, you know, when we get a ruling from the Supreme Court or when it becomes clear…' Well, yesterday we got it,” she said.
So this next legislative session, Burlingame wants Wyoming to pass its own law.
"We're meant to have the mantle of equality," she said. "We're meant to be the ones who don't look to the federal government for direction. We protect our own on our own. Now I think this legislative session, that's what we're going to do.”
Meanwhile, Idaho has some of the weakest LGBTQ protections in the nation, alongside the Dakotas and much of the South, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an equality think tank.
Overall, national advocacy groups say this week's ruling is a win, but there's more to be done, including protections for LGBTQ in everything from loans to healthcare.
Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.