Death of Wyoming Man Spurs Renewed Right for Hate Crimes Legislation

The death of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who sustained massive injuries in a brutal attack last week, has galvanized the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender community in seeking hate crimes legislation that covers bias crimes based on sexual orientation and identity. Shepard, who was found October 7 after nearly 20 hours of being tied to a fence and left to die, had been beaten, bludgeoned and slashed and was hospitalized in Fort Collins, Colorado's Poudre Valley Hospital until his death on October 12. Shepard was allegedly targeted in a bar popular among gay men by 21-year-old Russell Arthur Henderson and 20-year-old Aaron James McKinney.

A press conference will be held tomorrow, October 13, 1998 at 12:30 p.m. on the steps of the Albany County courthouse in Laramie, Wyoming, to call for hate crimes legislation which would enable prosecutors to seek substantial additional penalties when charging those who commit crimes motivated by bias. Among those attending the conference will be Wyoming State Rep. Wende Barker, Cathy Renna, GLAAD Director of Community Relations, and Dan Hawes, Field Organizer for the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force.

GLAAD executive director Joan M. Garry pointed out that Shepard's murder took place on the heels of the announcement by the Center For Reclaiming America and the Family Research Council that they would be launching a series of television ads building on their anti-gay newspaper campaign this summer, which promised "hope and healing." Speaking about the Wyoming incident, Garry observed, "If you think homophobic advertisements like those which ran in our newspapers this summer are devoid of repercussions - think again. These ads give people permission to hate."

On Wednesday, October 14, at 7:00 p.m., the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), National Lesbian and Gay Task Force (NGLTF) and GLAAD, as well as entertainment figures Helen Hunt, Ellen DeGeneres, her mother Betty DeGeneres and Elton John (not yet confirmed at press time) will join on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.. They will remember Matthew Shepard and renew the call for the passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act by Congress, which President Clinton first called for over a year ago. Elizabeth Birch, executive director of HRC, commented "There is nothing special about living a life free of violence and nothing right about opposing laws that would help remedy this situation. Those who oppose hate crimes legislation are either burying their heads in the sand or they simply don't care that thousands of gay and lesbian Americans are being harassed and brutalized each year."

A website administered by Wired Strategies, a political Internet consulting firm, has been set up to serve as a clearinghouse for information and coverage of the murder of Matthew Shepard. Among the resources are an e-mail distribution list, an online discussion forum, summaries and transcripts of stories reported on the murder, and an extensive list of recent bias crimes committed against lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender individuals over the past year. The URL address is http://www.wiredstrategies.com/shepard.html . To subscribe to the e-mail list, send an e-mail to john@wiredstrategies.com with your e-mail address in the body of the message.