Americans were shocked at the vicious beating and killing of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year old homosexual college student at University of Wyoming in Laramie. Shepard’s murder was said to be the event that brought hate crimes against homosexuals to the public eye.
After Shepard’s death, his mother Judy began her nationwide tour to raise awareness of hate crimes. She will give a lecture entitled “The Legacy of Matthew Shepard” tonight at 7 in the Special Event Center.
“She will speak as someone who experienced hate crimes personally. Students do not know that hate crimes have high statistics,” said Vanessa Ruiz, president of Pride, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender club that is co-sponsoring the lecture.
FBI reports from 1998, when Shepard was murdered, showed that 1,488 hate crimes were committed based on sexual orientation. In the FBI’s 2003 report, that number dropped slightly to 1,479.
Judy has been speaking at schools across the nation, giving lectures from a mother’s perspective. She said she hopes to teach students across the nation better ways in which individuals and communities can make the world more accepting. She wants to encourage acceptance for all races and genders, talk about hate language and tell how hate-learned behavior could be unlearned.
On Oct. 7, 1998, Matthew left a campus bar with two men who told him they were gay. He was driven to the outskirts of Laramie, where he was tied to a fence and later tortured, beaten and pistol-whipped. He was found unconscious the next morning by a cyclist and died six days later.
Shepard’s story was on the front pages of newspapers and magazines across America. Anti-hate vigils were held in his honor.
Americans could see on television and in print the magnitude of the hate crimes that had previously not been discussed.
“Before Shepard, (gay hate crimes were) not as visible on the social landscape,” said Maralee Mayberry, chairperson of the department of sociology.
She said that it was the media that made America really take notice of the heinous hate crimes.
“It evaporated after the media coverage stopped,” Mayberry said.
She said not a lot has changed since Shepard’s death.
“USF has not gone far enough from a faculty point of view,” Mayberry said. “We (USF) do have sexual orientation policies.”
But she said that the school has still not included “domestic partners” as eligible for benefits – an advantage other colleges around the nation have implemented.
Ruiz said hate crime incidences have been reported at USF since Shepard’s death.
“Students still use the word ‘gay’ in a derogatory way, and slurs are used in the classrooms,” Ruiz said.
She said students have reported threats and harassment because of sexual orientation in the dorm rooms. By asking Shepard to speak at USF, some believe it will help make a change for the better.