- Renee Gannon
Ten years ago from today, October 7, 2008, Laramie Police Dept. Officer Reggie Fluty went to the scene reported by a bicycle rider - a young man tied to a fence and obviously beaten very badly. Her words in the Laramie Project - that "the only part of his face not covered in blood were where he had been crying" are one of the most saddening and tragic moments in GLBTQI history. This was the day Matthew Shepard was found.
I wanted to post this for everyone as a 10-year memorial to the discovery of Matt, who was in a coma at the time of discovery, but also to everyone else who has been a vitcim of hate and violence.
Matthewe Shepard was a good kid. He was the oldest son of Dennis Shepard and Judy Shepard. He attended Crest Hill Elementary School, Dean Morgan Junior High, and the first two years of high school at Natrona County High School. He was a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Shepard spent his junior and senior years of high school at The American School In Switzerland. After graduating in 1995, he attended Catawba College and Casper College before he relocated to Denver. Shepard then became a first-year political science major at the University of Wyoming and was chosen as the student representative for the Wyoming Environmental Council.
He was described by his parents and good close friend from Orlando, Florida, Frankie J. McGraw, as "...an optimistic and accepting young man ...[who]... had a special gift of relating to almost everyone. He was the type of person that was very approachable and always looked to new challenges. Matthew had a great passion for equality and always stood up for the acceptance of people's differences."
The two men who attacked Matthew Shepard, Henderson and McKinney, were not charged with a hate crime, as no Wyoming criminal statute provided for such a charge. The disturbing and brutal nature of Matthew Shepard's murder prompted calls for new legislation addressing hate crime, urged particularly by those who believed that Shepard was targeted on the basis of his sexual orientation. Under current United States federal law and Wyoming state lawcrimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation are not prosecutable as hate crimes.
In the following session of the Wyoming Legislature, a bill was introduced defining certain attacks motivated by victim identity as hate crimes, but the measure failed on a 30-30 tie in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
At the federal level, then-President Bill Clinton renewed attempts to extend federal hate crime legislation to include gay and lesbian individuals, women, and people with disabilities. These efforts were rejected by the United States House of Representatives in 1999. In 2000, both houses of Congress passed such legislation, but it was stripped out in conference committee.
On March 20, 2007, the Matthew Shepard Act (HR 1592) was introduced as federal bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress, sponsored by Democrat John Conyers with 171 co-sponsors. Matthew's parents, Judy and Dennis, were present at the introduction ceremony. The bill passed the House of Representatives on May 3, 2007. Ultimately, the amendment was dropped by the Democratic leadership because of opposition from antiwar Democrats, conservative groups, and President George W. Bush.
Please use this article as a reminder that we are still very far from receiving equal rights and equal protections in this country. The fact that there still is not a national law protecting our community from hate and violence perpetuated by our own sexuality and gender identities is not only disheartening but frustrating too.
How many others out there do you think have been a victim of a hate crime whose perpetrators didn't receive the justice they deserved? How many people do you know personally that have been a victim of some kind of hate crime, attack or slur? When is enough, enough?
This is an extremely big election and I urge each and every one of you to stay educated on the issues involved in this election. Barack Obama supports expanding federal hate crimes to include sexual orientation/gender identity and he might be our only hope to finally get the national protection we deserve. Let's do it for Matthew Shepard. Let's do it for all the innocent victims whose attacks have gone unnoticed or unreported time after time. Let's do it for ourselves.