Matthew Shepard (1976–1998)

Matthew Shepard (1976–1998)On the night of Tuesday, October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a young, twenty-one-year-old homosexual male, went into a bar alone for a drink at the Fireside Bar after attending a meeting at the University of Wyoming’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Association. Inside, he met two men in their twenties who posed as homosexual men and lured Shepard outside. There, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson kidnapped Shepard at gunpoint and drove to a remote area outside Laramie, a small town of 26,000 people in rural Wyoming. They tortured Shepard and left him to die tied to a buck-rail fence in the cold more than 7,000 feet above sea level. He was found the following morning by a mountain biker. Transferred to a hospital in critical condition, Shepard, a native of Casper, Wyoming, died on October 12 from fatal injuries incurred during the attack. The town of Laramie later passed a bias crime ordinance in response to Shepard’s death. His killers, McKinney and Henderson, each received two consecutive life sentences in prison.

Shepard was one of thirty-four gay men and women killed in 1998 for their sexual orientation, and his death in particular became a catalyst for calls for hate crime legislation as a violation of basic human rights. Activists defined a hate crime as any crime perpetuated on an individual because of the appearance of particular characteristics or because of one’s apparent membership in a particular group. In other words, such crimes overtly functioned to deny a person’s access to human rights. As of 2000, twenty-one states had passed hate crime legislation that covered sexual orientation in their definition. Of the hate crimes reported to the FBI that same year, those crimes based on one’s sexual orientation accounted for the third highest reason for the crimes, at 11 percent, falling behind race with the highest percentage and religion as second.


References and Further Reading

  • Kaufman, Moises. The Laramie Project. New York: Vintage Books, 2001.
  • Loffreda, Beth. Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of Anti-Gay Murder. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
  • Swigonski, Mary. From Hate Crimes to Human Rights: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2001.

See also Hate Crime Laws; Hate Crimes


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  • Sukh

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Kateri, your post is an good reminder that we have to stay vianiglt to protect the equal rights of all of us. Because people in Canada stayed vianiglt, the CHRC dismissed the charges against Fr. Alphonse de Valk; the decision against Hugh Owens was reversed by a higher court any such rulings, condemning someone for speech or opinion, should be challenged. If you tell the world that i am the doguther of Satan Herself, I will not consider you guilty of hate speech and I will defend to the death your right to voice your own opinion. The cases of Scott Brockie and Mayor Dianne Haskins are not a case of expressing their own opinion. They refused a service to one group or person that they provided to other members of the public. Any individual's rights are limited by the equal rights of others. A restaurant owner does not have the right to refuse service to someone because they are black, or Jewish, or Mormon, or gay. A Mayor does not have the right to provide parade permits to Christians and deny them to Jews. If a printer can refuse to print any material he does not personally agree with, what becomes of the freedom of speech of everyone else? The case of Catholic Charities in Boston is similar; the people you personally agree with don't get more rights than the people you disagree with. The Catholic Church has every right to express it's beliefs about homosexuality. Everyone else on earth has an equal right to believe otherwise. The Catholic Charities is a 501(c)3 set up to be independent of the church itself so that, among other things, it can receive government grants. The conditions under which it gets government support also require it not to discriminate in either hiring or services. They cannot deny services to anyone, including gays or lesbians, that are legal under Massachusetts law. Rather than comply with state law requiring them to treat everyone equally, they chose to stop providing adoption services at all. The hate crimes law does not punish thoughts or speech. You can legally hate anybody and everybody for whatever reasons you please. If you act against someone because they are a member of a group you hate, the evidence that your attack was against that entire group can be used to increase the severity of the charge and the penalties if it's proven. I have Christian friends who consider homosexuality to be a sin. Not one of them will defend terrorism.