The news of Matthew Shepard's murder struck too close to me. A gay friend of mine attended the University of Wyoming and knew Matt personally. I breathe a sigh of relief that my friend moved to Denver in the spring, where openly gay peo-ple are numerous and appear to be fairly well respected and protected. Of course, I never thought of Wyoming as a hostile and dangerous region. Probably it isn't - just the home of two deranged and extremely cruel young men. But Matthew's murder is a brutally sad reminder that evil and ignorance plague us everywhere.

A bisexual friend from Toronto remarked to me that he once heard a man utter to his companion "let's get the fag" when my friend walked down the street. He feared for his life. I remember the case of a gay man shot to death in front a club in St Louis because two boys wanted to kill some fags. When I was a psychology stu-dent, an American anthropologist wrote to me of an 18-year-old boy who was os-tracized from his village in Lebanon and forced into the desert because he was found to be gay. Is the world too big to educate?

I shuddered when I remembered that Wyoming is known as the Equality State and elected the first female governor. Yet Wyoming has no hate crime laws? I cannot understand how a state famous for being "indifferent towards its minorities," as my friend from Wyoming said, will not afford protection to its gay citizens. We are not asking for "special rights." The right to life is not a "special" right. It is our basic human right, our basic constitutional right.

A provision in the Wyoming law would not have saved the life of Matthew Shepard, of course. Hate laws only punish when the crime has already been com-mitted. We need to push for further education of gay issues, further acceptance in social circles, petition for positive gay role models on our TV sitcoms and in our movies, and fund scientific and social research about homosexuality. People hate and despise what they fear, what they cannot understand. We can only prevent crimes like the vicious act committed against Matthew Shepard only if we combat the ignorance. We must educate the rest of the world and show people that we're not evil or perverted - we're everyday people, just like everyone else.

-- Dallas Long, texas@inlink.com