United States: Gay Student Brutally Murdered

On October 6, Matthew Shepard, a 21 year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was abducted and brutally beaten, in an attack apparently motivated by his homosexuality. 18 hours later, he was found tied to a wooden ranch fence outside the city of Laramie. His skull had been smashed, and his head and face had been slashed; the two passing motorcyclists who discovered him at first mistook his figure for a scarecrow. On October 12, he died of his injuries.

Two men, aged 21 and 22, have been charged with murder in the wake of the assault. Their girlfriends--whom they allegedly told of the crime, and who have been charged as accessories after the fact--have claimed that the two set out to take revenge on Shepard for making a pass at one of them in a bar on the night of the killing. After the attack on Matthew, the two perpetrators went on to attack two Latino men, Emilio Morales (19) and Jeremy Herrera (18) in a second attack presumably also motivated by bias.

Well before the attack, Shepard had described in interviews the difficulties of being openly gay in a small town. He had allegedly been assaulted previously, incidents which he had ascribed to homophobia.

Shepard's death sparked national and international outrage. It came after a year in which conservatives and religious fundamentalists had increasingly exploited opposition to gay and lesbian rights. Earlier in the year, Senator Trent Lott, majority leader of the U. S. Senate, had compared homosexuals to alcoholics and kleptomaniacs. Even after Shepard's death, Patrick Buchanan, a conservative commentator and former presidential candidate, implied that the victim had placed his own life at risk--writing that "Shepard was not fighting for gay rights on the night of his death. He was killed while out cruising for gay sex by thugs out cruising for easy mugging victims."

"If saying homosexual conduct is morally wrong and spiritually ruinous is hate speech," Buchanan wrote, "the Bible is hate literature."

IGLHRC is concerned that an atmosphere of hatred and homophobia may generate impediments to a full investigation of Shepard's death, as well as to the prosecution of those allegedly responsible. IGLHRC is equally concerned that the open endorsement of homophobia by public figures in the U.S. may serve as encouragement to others to engage in violence or abuse against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or transgender people. Finally, IGLHRC remains concerned at the continued absence of adequate and specific legal protection for those gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people against discrimination and abuse.

On Wednesday, October 28 at approximately 9 p.m. in Baltimore, Maryland, 31-year-old Leonard "Lynn" Vine was shot six times after having anti-gay and anti-drag epithets shouted at him in what appears to be another bias motivated crime. Leonard is continuing to recover >from his injuries. Meanwhile in a November 3 vote, citizens of Fort Collins, Colorado -- home to the hospital where Matthew Shepard died -- rejected a ballot measure which would have provided protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

IGLHRC urges activists to write to President Bill Clinton and to Governor Jim Geringer of Wyoming, asking them to continue to speak out against violence and abuse based on sexual orientation. Ask the President and the Governor to press for passage of legislation which will ban discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, and which will ensure the protection of their basic rights. Ask them also to work to ensure that both the investigation of Matthew Shepard's death, and the prosecution and punishment of those found responsible, are conducted in a full, fair, and judicious manner.

Activists should also write to Senator Trent Lott, majority leader of the U. S. Senate, and to Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives. Ask them to condemn homophobia clearly and publicly; to disavow any statements (including their own), and distance themselves from persons or movements, which foment prejudice or deny the basic rights of persons of different sexual orientations; and to affirm the importance of a society built on tolerance rather than hatred.

Activists may contact the U. S. Embassies or Consulates in their countries to convey these messages. Letters may also be sent to:

President Bill Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
e-mail: president@whitehouse.gov
Governor Jim Geringer
Governor's Office
Wyoming State Capitol
Cheyenne, WY 82002
e-mail: governor@missc.state.wy.us
Senator Trent Lott
Majority Leader, U.S. Senate
United States Capitol, Room S-230
Washington, DC 20510
e-mail: senatorlott@lott.senate.gov
Congressman Newt Gingrich
Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives
2428 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
e-mail: speaker@mail.house.gov