Matthew Shepard Memorial

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"He should be remembered just as a kid,
as somebody who lived his life honestly."
-Judy Shepard

Matthew Shepard Memorial Quilt


(Original Source:

According to Court TV, the recent delay in starting the Shepard trial (apparently it's been put off until at least Wednesday now), may be due to efforts to reach a plea bargain with the defendant. 

I have no further information, and don't mean to disparage anyone here, but I do worry about one thing.  During the trial of the murderers of Allen Schindler, the gay sailor who was brutally budgeoned to death by shipmates several years ago, the prosecutor decided to plea bargain one defendant in order to get his cooperation against the second defendant.  But this led to two problems.  First, the first defendant got a ridiculously light sentence as a result of his "cooperation."   Second, the prosecutor didn't need the first defendant's testimony anyway, he already had more than enough evidence to convict them both. 

My concerns:

  1. Do either of these guys deserve any ligher punishment because they're now "cooperating"?
  2. Isn't there enough evidence to convict them both without their cooperation?
  3. What happens if we get a plea, and during the trial of defendant two, the first guy comes out and says "I was lying, it really was me who killed Matt, defendant two simply watched"?  Defendant one is protected because his case is over, and defendant two gets a lighter sentence because the jury now has doubts about who is to blame.

One added concern here.  An earlier AP article spoke of the prosecutor not wanting to play the "gay card" - i.e., talking about the gay-hate aspect of this trial might make bigoted jurors more likely to acquit.  I worry about whether the plea has something to do with that.  Is there actually concern that the jurors might acquit because the murderers were inspired by anti-gay hate?   Is the biggest anti-gay murder trial in US history not going to mention the g-word?   Are gay Americans required to stay in the closet, even in death?

Isn't it ironic that there are fears that a state that wouldn't include sexual orientation in its hate crimes laws, because it wasn't needed, now might not convict a murderer because his victim was a "fag."  If ever there was proof of the need for such a law, this is it.


(Matt's mom, Judy Shepard, spoke at a recent press conference organized by the Human Rights Campaign and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights)

Statement From Judy Shepard
Mother of Matthew Shepard

March 23, 1999

Thank you Elizabeth. Before I go any further, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the thousands of people throughout this country who have written or called with their support. Your kind words and warm thoughts have helped sustain me and my family through this very difficult time.

Before Matthew died, my husband and I had given little thought to the issue of hate crimes legislation. We, of course, deplored reports of violence that would from time to time come to us through the media, but we focussed very little on what our government could do about it, either at the state or federal level. We have been reluctant to speak about it until we understood more.

Since, his death, we have learned a great deal. To be clear, I am here today in response to what I have learned sincee Matthew's death not in response to it. My attorney has advised me not to comment on the upcoming trials. My husband and I want to allow justice to run its course and we will respect due process.

While it is true, perpetrating violence on another individual is against the law regardless of the motivation, violence motivated by hate has deep ramifications and is often times meant to intimidate entire groups of people. Hate crimes laws first send a message that these crimes will not be tolerated in our society, a message that sadly needs to be heard by some people. Equally as important, these laws would provide law enforcement with tools they might need in pursuing these cases and making sure that justice is served.

There is ample evidence that hate crimes laws are needed. My heart stands with Daryl Varrette who is with us today. The savagery of what occurred to his Uncle, James Byrd Jr. is beyond human comprehension.

It is my firm belief that this legislation is necessary in all 50 states and at the federal level. No one will ever know if these laws would have saved Mr. Byrd's life, or even my son's life. But we can begin today by building a safer world for all Americans, including gay and lesbian Americans. There is no guarantee that these laws will stop hate crimes from happening. But they can reduce them. They can help change the climate in this country, where some people feel as though it is Ok to target specific groups of people and get away with it. If just one is stopped. If just one potential perpetrator gets the message of this legislation and there is one less victim, then it will be worthwhile.

On behalf of my family, I call on the Congress of the United States to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act without delay. Also, a state and federal partnership combatting hate crimes can save lives. I urge the 21 state legislatures which have hate crimes laws that exclude sexual orientation to include it. I also urge the 8 state legislatures that have no hate crimes laws, including my home state of Wyoming, to enact them. And, I urge Gov. George W. Bush of Texas to reconsider his opposition to hate crimes laws that include sexual orientation. There is no exuse for inaction.

Thank you.


(This statement was given at a press conference organized by the Human Rights Campaign and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights)

Statement Read By Darrell Verrett
James Byrd Jr.'s Nephew

March 23, 1999

We are here today to ask that you pass the James Byrd Hate Crime's Act in memory of our beloved son.

The last several months have been the most difficult months we have ever lived through as a family. Faith in God and in the goodness of people has helped us survive and see past the racial hatred that killed our son. Although we are seeking justice in the courtroom for James' death, we are also united in our efforts to prevent these senseless acts of hatred. That is the reason we urge you to support the James Byrd Hate Crime Act.

We believe the James Byrd Act will help prevent other families from experiencing the pain of hate crimes. Hate crimes cause our communities to be violently divided because of race, religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. We cannot have that kind of painful division any longer.

Preventing hate crimes has to be our priority so that other Texas families do not have to live through the pain of losing someone because of hatred.

As our Texas lawmakers, we ask you to help lead the way to ending hate crimes by passing the James Byrd Hate Crime Act.


Tue Mar 23, 1999 - 7:30PM EST - TRIAL TO OPEN WEDNESDAY
The trial of  Russel Henderson, charged with being one of Matt's two killers, begins on Wednesday March 24 with jury selection.  Opening arguments are expected to begin on April 6.  This site will be updated regularly as news arises.   Stay tuned.  JOHN

NEWS from theHuman Rights Campaign
919 18th Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20006

Tuesday, March 23, 1999


HRC Blasts Texas Governor George W. Bush's Anti-Gay Stance On Hate Crimes

WASHINGTON -- On the same day Texas Gov. George W. Bush said he opposes including sexual orientation in a state hate-crimes law, family members of two hate crimes victims announced their active support for federal and state hate crimes legislation at a press conference. The backing of Judy Shepard, mother of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, and Darrell Verrett, nephew of Jasper, Texas resident James Byrd Jr., reinvigorates the call for passing state hate crimes legislation and for passing the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

"No one will ever know if these laws would have saved Mr. Byrd's life, or even my son's life. But we can begin today by building a safer world for all Americans," said Judy Shepard at the press conference. "If just one is stopped. If just one potential perpetrator gets the message of this legislation and there is one less victim, then it will be worthwhile." "There is no greater threat to our liberty and national unity," said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch at the press conference. "As a nation, we must look in the mirror long and hard and ask ourselves what is the right course of action. Will the memories of James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard fade into history, or will we rise to the challenge and stand against the escalating wave of hate that is infecting the soul of our nation?"

Just as support and momentum for passing hate crimes legislation is growing, Gov. Bush announced that he is opposed to clarifying Texas' hate crimes law by explicitly adding sexual orientation. "We are appalled at the position of Governor George W. Bush," said Birch. "Apparently being a compassionate conservative does not include protecting the victims of hate crimes or their families. His position is shortsighted and lacks the spirit of moderate leadership he espouses. We think he should reconsider."

Shepard and Varrett were joined at the National Press Club by Elizabeth Birch, HRC executive director; Wade Henderson, executive director, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Dianne Hardy Garcia, executive director, Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Texas, Chair, Judicial Affairs Committee. Earlier this month, a bipartisan group in Congress reintroduced the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill that would add sexual orientation, gender and disability to existing hate crimes statutes. Only 21 states have hate crimes laws that include sexual orientation and eight states have no hate crimes laws.

Under current law, a hate crime can be federally prosecuted only if it takes place on federal property or because the victim is exercising a federally protected right, such as voting or attending school. These limitations can tie the hands of those investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would help alleviate these limitations by allowing federal involvement when necessary and by helping forge a strong and lasting partnership between state and federal law enforcement officials in fighting hate crimes.

While state and local authorities have and will continue to play the primary role in the investigation and prosecution of hate violence, federal jurisdiction would provide an important backstop to ensure that justice is achieved in every case. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act limits the federal government's jurisdiction to only the most serious violent crimes directed at persons, not property crimes. This bill would allow states with inadequate resources to take advantage of Department of Justice resources and personnel in limited cases that have been authorized by the Attorney General.

Last year, two tragic hate crimes shook the nation. The brutal killings of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. focused the nation's attention on the growing problem of hate violence against minorities. Shepard was allegedly killed by two men in part because he was gay. Byrd, an African-American, was dragged to death behind a truck by white supremacists. More recently, Billy Jack Gaither was murdered in Alabama by two men who said they killed him because he was gay. Since 1981, hate crimes have nearly doubled. In 1997-- the FBI's most recent reporting period -- race-related hate crimes were by far the most common, representing nearly 60 percent of all cases. Hate crimes based on religion represented 15 percent of all cases. And hate crimes against gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans increased by 8 percent -- or about 14 percent of all hate crimes reported. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act has broad bipartisan backing and support from notable law enforcement agencies and state and local leaders, including 22 state attorney generals, the National Sheriff's Association, the Police Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian and gay Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.


February 5, 1999

NBC's Web site is reporting that Matt's parents are going to be on Dateline NBC tonight at 9PM EST.

Information has been leaking out all week about Matt's parents' various interviews. Apparently, they've gone public and told the media that Matt tested HIV positive after his death - and that he likely was unaware that he was infected. They also will apparently say tonight on NBC that `It's a very frightening concept as a parent that your son now becomes a martyr, a public figure for the world,'' Judy Shepard told Dateline NBC, "He's just our son.'' His mother also said: `You must understand, it's like putting him on a pedestal that just won't work. I'm concerned that if people find out that it's not true, they'll be disappointed or angry or hate him." She also explained that Matt was clinically depressed.

Judy Shepard has announced the "International Hike Against Hate and Violence", a 2,500 mile Alaska-to-Laramie journey to begin in June. The hike will take a "Flame of Hope" from Skagway, Alaska, on June 3 to Laramie on Oct. 12, when a ceremony as well as lighting of a permanent flame are planned.

According to the Associated Press on February 3, "four months after gay college student Matthew Shepard was beaten to death, a move to pass a hate crimes bill in Wyoming was scuttled Wednesday by a legislative committee. The committee killed two bills, and supporters said that ended their hopes for the year. State lawmakers have rejected similar measures four times since 1995."

According to the Casper Star-Tribune, "a national gay rights organization has condemned an Albany County prosecutor's decision to seek the death penalty against two men accused of killing a gay University of Wyoming student. The group, Queer Watch, issued a challenge to other gay rights organizations to take a similar stance against capital punishment in the high-profile case....In a telephone interview Michael Petrelis, a Queer Watch member in San Francisco, denounced the 'continuing silence of prominent gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered organizations" about capital punishment. Putting anyone to death for the murder of Shepard is just as barbaric as tying the victim to a fence post and leaving him to die in sub-zero temperatures,' he said."

This week a very interesting, and disturbing, controversy broke out when Kirby Frank of Atlanta found a sweepstakes on a Microsoft-partnered Web site that offered a free trip to the Caribbean, sponsored by US Airways, for one lucky couple. Unfortunately, when Frank checked out the fine print, it explained that the "couple" had better be a man and a woman. Incensed that Microsoft and US Airways could endorse such discrimination, Frank set off a chain of events that eventually ensnared Yahoo!, Online Vacation Mall, a number of fragrance companies, and more. The companies are apologizing left and right (well, at least some of them) - and now the ACLU and a prominent DC Internet lawyer have said that civil rights laws may have been broken, a number of industry representatives are very nervous. Read more about this ongoing injustice at

That's it for now.


Tuesday, December 15, 1998 - 8PM EST

Wired Strategies
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - December 7, 1998

CONTACT: John Aravosis, 202/328-5707,

Religious Right "message of love" sounding a lot like hate

Washington, DC - Over 120 examples of anti-gay religious right hate speech are chronicled on a new Web site, published today by Wired Strategies. The archive, part of the larger Matthew Shepard Online Resources site, is a free resource to counter fundamentalist assertions that their vocal campaign against the civil rights of gay Americans is simply a "message of love."

The site includes quotes from Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and other extreme political activists. Hyperlinks are provided to speech on "family values" Web sites, which still host many of the most demeaning anti-gay references. Aravosis hopes the site will help visitors get involved by providing links for them to email examples of hate speech to national and local media.

In addition, the site chronicles the quotes of Dr. Paul Cameron, a now-discredited scientist, whose extreme views on gays (e.g., "Unless we get medically lucky, in three or four years, one of the options discussed will be the extermination of homosexuals") led to his removal from a number of professional organizations, and his censure by a court of law. The site details how groups like the Family Research Council, the ex-gay movement, and the American Family Association to this day use Cameron's debunked "research" to malign gays.

"In the wake of Matt Shepard's death, the religious right has been in a frenzied denial of their hateful speech. But the facts - and this Web site - speak for themselves," said John Aravosis of Wired Strategies. "The quotes on this Web site are not just un-American, they're un-Christian," added Aravosis.

"Militant fundamentalists can't continue to dehumanize gay people, then feign shock when one gets bashed or killed," said Aravosis. "Matt's killers were anti-gay bigots who found solace in a culture that demonizes gay people as perverts, pedophiles, and pagans. Religious right hate speech feeds and nurtures this culture. It's time we shamed them into stopping speech that amounts to a loaded gun."

Sample quotes from the site:

Pat Robertson:
"many of those people involved in Adolf Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals, the two things seem to go together, it is a pathology it is a sickness."

Family Research Council:
"There is a strong undercurrent of pedophilia in the homosexual subculture."

American Family Association:
"Prominent homosexual leaders and publications have voiced support for pedophilia, incest, sadomasochism, and even bestiality."

Colorado for Family Values
"homosexuals, while representing perhaps 2% of the population, perpetrate more than one-third of all reported child molestations."

Jesse Helms:
"They start by pretending that it is just another form of love. It's sickening."

Wired Strategies is a Washington, DC-based political Internet consulting firm specializing in public policy Internet strategies for the government, nonprofit and private sectors.


It's interesting to note that Colorado State University is suspending the students who pulled a vile anti-gay prank at Matt Shepard's expense, yet NYU doesn't even think it worthwhile to find the student who threatened anti-gay violence surrounding Matt Shepard vigils. See next story after this for more information on NYU.

Associated Press, November 13, 1998
Eleven students punished at CSU
Participants in anti-gay prank receive varied sentences for actions

FORT COLLINS— Eleven students have been given punishments ranging from probation to suspension after a scarecrow mocking homosexuals ended up on a homecoming parade float, Colorado State University said Thursday.

"We have taken action against all 11 students involved," said university spokesman Tom Milligan.

He refused to specify which students received what punishment because of federal privacy rules.

Milligan said the suspended students could reapply, if they meet certain conditions including ethics workshops, reading and writing assignments, and community service. The students were given hearings, and can appeal.

Milligan said the suspensions were based on parade violations and misleading statements given university officials after the incident.

The scarecrow appeared on the float Oct. 10 while Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, lay dying in a nearby hospital. He died Oct. 12 after his fatal beating outside Laramie, Wyo., on Oct. 7.

Last month, Colorado State University withdrew recognition for the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority over the incident. The sorority also gave up its charter.

University officials said it is possible for both organizations to regain their status, but they said reinstatement would not even be considered for at least one academic year, and would not be considered until the organizations complete community service.

"By recommending the withdrawal of recognition, the Greek Judicial Board has taken the most severe action it can take," said Zach Bird, chairman of the student governing board. The acceptance by the university of the vote by the judicial board means neither organization will be able to use university facilities, nor participate in university-sanctioned activities.

"Our chapter members at Colorado State University of Alpha Chi Omega voted to surrender their charter, and the board has voted to accept that charter," said Jan Crandall, national president of Indiana-based Alpha Chi Omega.

"Our actions ... reflect Alpha Chi Omega's intolerance for this kind of behavior," she said. "Our board and membership sends its deepest condolences to the Shepard family."

Nicholas Haws, homecoming chairman for Pi Kappa Alpha, said the scarecrow on the float was supposed to be in the uniform of Tulsa University's Golden Hurricane, Colorado State's opponents in a football game Oct. 10.

He said someone vandalized the float, pinning a sign saying "I am Gay" and an anti-gay epithet on the figure. He said the scarecrow was removed but someone placed it back on the float before Saturday's parade.

Nathan Stanley, president of the Fort Collins chapter of the fraternity, said the appearance of the scarecrow was inadvertent. National fraternity officials condemned the prank.

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