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Posts for December, 2009

Video of Matthew Shepard Surfaces

Jim Burroway

December 12th, 2009

Matthew Shepard in a mid-1990's videoMatthew Shepard has managed to become something of an icon for anti-LGBT hate crimes in America. and like the old religious icons which become a part of our culture, his image has always been a static one. Now a video of an brief interview with Matthew and his then-boyfriend has emerged and is posted on Joshalot.

The web site’s author (his name isn’t given) ran across some videos as part of his research project, one of which includes an interview of Matthew and his boyfriend in the mid-1990′s when they were attending Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. The video, which is not embeddable but can be seen here, shows us a moving, breathing, intelligent and soft-spoken Matthew Shepard that we’ve never seen before, and reminds us of the very ordinary college student that we lost more then ten years ago.

Matthew Shepard: a gay Everyman?

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Gabriel Arana

September 4th, 2009

I have a piece in the American Prospect today that questions whether the gay rights movement should be elevating Matthew Shepard to the status of gay Everyman:

Over 1,400 members of the LGBT community are victims of a hate crime every year, which includes violent attacks as well as harassment. Why, then, is Shepard the “face” of gay rights? The implication is that all the other candidates weren’t quite right: not urban New Yorkers dying of AIDS in the 1980s, not inner-city black adolescents whose parents kicked them out of the house, not leather daddies marching on Washington. The pictures of other gays, lesbians, and transgender people did not prove sufficiently salable to make it onto rally placards.

I guess what I think is problematic is that Matthew Shepard — the person — has very little to do with Matthew Shepard, the icon. I know Shepard has become a religion to many gay rights supporters, but how we’ve deified him says a lot about the politics of the gay rights movement. And should we really be fighting for hate-crimes legislation? I think it would be better to fight for the federal nondiscrimination act; hate-crimes legislation can’t bring back the dead, but nondiscrimination laws do a lot to protect gay people who are living.

I’d be interested to hear what BTB readers think.

Matthew Shepard’s Mother Responds To Rep. Foxx

Jim Burroway

May 1st, 2009

Judy Shepard isn’t taking this lying down.

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LaBarbera Award: Rep. Virginia Foxx

Jim Burroway

April 29th, 2009

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is our latest winner of the LaBarbera Award for her explanation of why she opposed the The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, otherwise known as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. That bill passed the House this afternoon.

During the debate leading up to the vote, Rep. Foxx lambasted the bill and the young man for whom the proposed legislation is named. While Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard watched the debate from the House gallery, Foxx called Matthew’s hate crime murder a “hoax”:

The hate crimes bill that’s called the Matthew Shepard Bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay. This — the bill was named for him, hate crimes bill was named for him, but it’s really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills,” Foxx said from the floor of the House of Representatives.

A hoax? Really? That’s not what Laramie investigators found:

…[D]etectives dismissed the idea that the murder was the mere result of a robbery gone bad.

“Far from that!” scoffed Sgt. Rob DeBree, the chief investigator in the case. “They knew damn well he was gay … It started out as a robbery and burglary, and I sincerely believe the other activity was because he was gay.”

…[Convicted killer Russell] Henderson provided a detailed account of that plan. The killers identified Shepard as a lonely homosexual, an easy mark, and retreated to the bathroom to hatch their plot. Henderson made the first advance by whispering a come-on in Shepard’s ear, and “McKinney tried to feminize his voice to continue the lure,” DeBree said.

Laramie’s detectives and prosecutors had no doubts whatsoever that Matthew Shepard’s murder was a hate crime, and that he was specifically targeted because he was gay. The only hoax here is the reprehensible comment by Rep. Foxx. Making those comments in front of Matthew’s mother is beyond all measures of human decency. Which is exactly the sort of behavior we expect from a LaBarbera Award winner.

Today In History: Rest In Peace

Jim Burroway

October 16th, 2008

Ten years ago today, family and friends were gathering in Casper, Wyoming, to say their final good-byes to Matthew Shepard. Earlier that morning, Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, met with reporters before the funeral for a very brief public statement. Choking back tears, Dennis said:

On behalf of our son Matthew Shepard, we want to thank the citizens of the United States, and the people of the world, who have expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences to our family during these trying times. A person as caring and loving as our son Matt would be overwhelmed by what this incident has done to the hearts and souls of people around the world… We are honored and touched beyond measure…

Please understand and respect my family’s request for a private and dignified farewell to our son today. Matt’s family and friends, loved him deeply, and we need to share a quiet goodbye to him. Matt himself would have been the first to honor another family’s request if this had happened to someone else.

We should try to remember that because Matt’s last few minutes of consciousness on earth may have been hell, his family and friends want more than ever to say their farewells to him in a peaceful, dignified and loving manner.

By all accounts, Matt’s funeral at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was peaceful, dignified and loving. Only selected friends and family were allowed to attend, in an attempt to keep the service quiet and private.

The scene outside the church was in equal parts dignified and circus-like. Crowds of mourners stood quietly in the gentle snowy weather to pay their respects, while police, reporters, photographers and satellite trucks buzzed around them.

A short distance away stood a contingent of protesters from Fred Phelps’ notorious Westboro Baptist Church. They were there holding signs that read, “God hates fags,” and “Matt In Hell.” But they were surrounded and shielded from the church by counter-protesters — for want of a better word — who fashioned large white bedsheets into giant angel wings.

While Westboro’s tactics were the most talked-about example of anti-gay extremism on display that day, they weren’t entirely alone. Ten years ago today also saw Robert Knight’s Family Research Council use the occasion of Matt’s funeral to denounce Phelps — and to boast about their part in the ex-gay advertising blitz that had begun the day before Matt’s murder. The FRC’s statement condemned Phelps’ tactics while sharing his message of condemning Matthew to hell:

While we share Mr. Phelps’ opposition to the homosexual political agenda, his belief that homosexuality is a sin, and his call for punishment of Mr. Shepard’s killers, we do not endorse his tactics, and have asked his group to stop letting themselves be used by the media to crudely caricature Christians.

The ‘truth in love’ media campaign reaches out to people struggling with homosexuality and offers them hope for change and redemption. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, homosexuals are included in a list of sinners, who, if unrepentant, will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Ten years have passed since Matthew Shepard has been laid to rest. Where are we at today?

One thing is undeniable. We’ve made great strides in changing how people view LGBT people. More people are “out” than ever before, living openly for the most part in relative safety.

And yet, too many things still haven’t changed. It is still legal to fire people from their jobs for being gay. Marriage rights are only secure right now in one state. Wyoming is one of twenty states which still does not have a hate crimes law to cover sexual orientation. And the federal hate crime statute still covers race, religion, and national origin — but not sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

Yet official statistics continue to show that when hate crmes do occur against LGBT people, those crimes are more likely to be violent crimes when compared to other classes which are already protected.

In these ten years since Matthew’s death, we have continued to lose countless lives — singled out simply for who they were. We’ve lost Brandon Teena, Danny Overstreet, Phillip Walstead, Amancio Coralles, Satendar Singh, Scotty Joe Weaver, Daniel Fetty, Steven Domer, Roberto “Poncho” Duncanson, Sean Kennedy, Angie Zapata, Michael Sandy, Simmie Williams, Jr., and Lawrence King — just to name a very few.

As Judy Shepard has said on the tenth anniversary of her son’s death, so much has changed. Yet so much remains the same.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: “Something In the Culture”

Jim Burroway

October 13th, 2008

I hadn’t planned on posting another installment, but I just happened to run across this at the library Sunday. It’s from the Winter 1998/9 edition of the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review. Ten years ago today, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) rose on the House floor to address the chamber on the need to amend the Federal Hate Crimes law to include sexual orientation. A portion of that speech was adapted as an op-ed in the HG&LR.

Recently a very decent young man was brutally murdered by two savage individuals. I am particularly struck by this, because — given the reason that those two mentally and morally deformed individuals murdered that young man — it could have been me. Had I, alone and unarmed, confronted these two thugs, I could have been subjected to the same brutalization that Mr. Shepard was in Wyoming, because his crime was to be a gay man. Something in the culture in which these two young men grew up led them, without an ounce of humanity, without a scrap of decency, to set upon this young man with a weapon, beat him, and leave him not quite dead, but at the point of death, alone, and in a way that added further his torment.

I am encouraged by the number of people who have spoken out against this savagery. I am optimistic, having spoken with leaders on both sides in the House, that we will take an important step and add to the Federal hate crimes legislation a provision that would say that if a young man who happens to be gay, as I happen to be gay, is set upon by thugs in the future who are so consumed with prejudice as to lose any shred of their humanity and kill him, that in appropriate circumstances, if the Attorney General found that certain very stringent requirements were met, and if a Federal presence were necessary, the Federal presence could be there. So, I hope we will add this to the legislation now pending.

But we need to go beyond that. I do not argue that those who have been critical of various proposals that gay and lesbian people have put forward are guilty of murder or of even creating a murderous climate. But this savage murder does call us to the need to improve what we as a society do to protect other young Mr. Shepards from this kind of brutality in the future.

In particular, we have debated on the floor of this House measures whereby Members have sought to penalize secondary schools for setting up programs to that do two things. First, they would offer protection to the young gay men and lesbians who find themselves tormented and abused and sometimes physically assaulted in school. Second, some of these schools would try to teach young people in their teens that brutalizing people because they don’t like their sexual orientation is not acceptable human behavior.

I hope that one thing that will come out of this terrible murder will be a cessation of those efforts to prevent schools from trying in turn to prevent this kind of behavior. It is not random that the terrible murder was committed upon a gay man, and it is shocking that a 21-year-old and a 22-year-old could be so bestial in their attitude toward a fellow human being. These are people not long out of high school themselves. This underlines the importance of allowing educators to deal with prejudice. We talk about teaching values. But when some talk about teaching the value of tolerance, when some talk about condemning violence based on someone’s basic characteristics, we are told we cannot do that. We have been told that we cannot let a school teach acceptance of the gay lifestyle. Think about that: What does non-acceptance mean? If acceptance is interpreted to mean approval, then I don’t care about it. There are bigots in this world whose approval holds no charms for me. But when non-acceptance means not accepting someone’s right to live, we have a serious problem.

If the two murderers who so brutally beat Mr. Shepard and left him to die – if they had been in a school system in which people had taught that gay men and lesbians were human beings with a right to live, maybe this would not have happened. Maybe teaching people to accept differences, not in the sense of becoming their advocates or supporters, but in refraining from this sort of assault, would be a good thing. Ad so we will return to this. I hope we will, in the piece of legislation that’s about to wrap up this session, adopt the hate crimes statute, and I hope we will no longer see in this House efforts to harass and penalize educators who understand the importance of trying to remove from young people’s attitudes the kind of hatefulness that led to this murder.

The Republican Congressional leadership of Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich refused to allow an appropriate amendment to the Hate Crimes law into this bill, so it died for the year. Ten years later, Federal law continues to provide hate crime protections on the basis of race, religion, and national origin, but not sexual orientation.

Also ten years ago today, vigils were held around the country and the giant rainbow flag in San Francisco’s Castro district was lowered to half staff. And Fred Phelps, of the Westboro Baptist Church, announced that his clan would be protesting at the funeral.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)

Jim Burroway

October 12th, 2008

Ten years ago today, on October 12, 1998, Poudre Valley Hospital’s CEO Rulon Stacey released this medical update during a hastily called press conference at 4:30 a.m.:

At 12 midnight on Monday, October 12, Matthew Shepard’s blood pressure began to drop. We immediately notified his family who were already at the hospital.

At 12:53 a.m. Matthew Shepard died, his family was at his bedside.

Summary:
Matthew arrived at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, October 7, in critical condition.

Matthew remained in critical condition during his entire stay at Poudre Valley Hospital. During his stay, efforts to improve his condition proved to no avail.

Matthew died while on full life support measures.

Funeral arrangements are pending, and we will announce those arrangements on our website as soon as they are available at www.pvhs.org, under the PVHS NEWS toolbar. Please do not call the hospital for this information; we will post the information on this web site as soon as we find out.

The family did release the following statement, “We would like to thank the hospital for their kindness, professionalism, sympathy, and respect for the needs of our family under this stressful time. We will always be grateful for their concern for Matthew.”

The family again asked me to express their sincere gratitude to the entire world for the overwhelming response for their son. During the last 24 hours we have received nearly 2000 e-mails from every continent, and, our Website has received thousands of hits on Saturday and Sunday. We will continue to forward to the family any e-mail we receive…

The family was grateful they did not have to make a decision regarding whether or not to continue life support for their son. Like a good son, he was caring to the end and removed guilt or stress from the family.

He came into the world premature and left the world premature.

Matthew’s mother said, “Go home, give your kids a hug and don’t let a day go by without telling them you love them.”

Matthew’s family is so grateful that his last words to them were, “I love you.” This was said when the family went to Saudi Arabia where they work for an oil company.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: The Vigil

Jim Burroway

October 11th, 2008

Ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard lay quietly in the surgical-neuro intensive care unit of Poudre Valley Hospital in Ft. Collins, Colorado, surrounded by his family. This was his fifth day since that awful night. Despite his comatose state, doctors recommended that his family remain there and surround him with things that would be familiar to him in case he had any lingering awareness.

We don’t know much about the scene in the hospital that day. Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy, haven’t talked about it publicly. Whenever they’ve spoken publicly since then, they’ve always remained focused on Matthew’s life, not his suffering.

But we do know that ten years ago today they spent every minute that they could at his bedside, surrounding him with as many familiar things as possible. Beyond that, we can only imagine the scene.

But we can imagine that, among the many thoughts that must have raced through his family’s minds, they must have reflected on the many events in his life that they shared with him, the good times and the bad.

They must have thought about their son growing up in Casper. Kids do grow up so quickly, and Matt was no exception. And yet to them, Matt still must have seemed like such a little boy. He was born prematurely, and he struggled to survive as an infant. He was always small for his age — at 21, he still only stood five feet, two inches tall. He started wearing braces at the age of thirteen, and he still had braces as he lay there in that hospital bed.

It must have been very hard to see him laying there quietly like that, a son that was know more for his boundless energy. He wasn’t a star athlete while growing up, but he did played soccer. And in the Cowboy State Summer Games which were held every year in Wyoming, he ran the five-kilometer race and swam the 50-meter freestyle. He entered the swim meet at the last minute knowing that he would likely finish last, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying. He finished last.

His friends described him as walking with a characteristic bounce, and his playful energy every room he entered. He just seemed to exude a certain kind of energy, the sort of confidence that comes from acting in in community college plays in Casper at the tender age of twelve. When he was a high school junior, he and his family moved to Saudi Arabia where Dennis worked as a construction safety engineer. Matt spend the summer there, and then he went off to boarding school in Switzerland. There he discovered a facility with languages, quickly learning German and Italian.

And yet, he wasn’t always so confident. His parents knew there was always something different about him. His mother says that she knew her son was gay since he was eight. She saw him struggling with himself as he negotiated the tricky minefields of relationships with school friends and neighbors while trying to keep his secret to himself. And she saw him struggle as he tried to figure himself out. But she didn’t try to bring up “the subject” with Matt, opting instead to wait until Matt was ready within himself.

Matt didn’t come out to her until he was eighteen, and even then he couldn’t do it face to face. He came out during a middle-of-the-night phone call. Her response? “What took you so long?”

Matt was more hesitant to come out to his father, and that reluctance had placed a strain between them. Matt had built up this worst-case scenario in his mind that his father would reject him. After all, he had been Matt’s soccer coach, and they had taken many hunting, camping, and fishing trips together along with Matt’s grandfather. You know, the guy stuff that Matt loved doing with his father and grandfather. But more to the point, he didn’t want to disappoint them or risk their rejection.

So when Matt finally decided to have “the conversation” with his father, he took a deep breath and nervously told his dad that he was gay. And then he just waited for Dennis’s reaction. To Matt’s immense relief, his father just said. “Yeah? OK, but what’s the point of this conversation?”

And with that, they went back to just doing guy stuff again.

But of course, that confirmation did lead to a sense of loss with his parents — no bride-and-groom wedding, daughter-in-law, grandchildren — those things. But they quickly got over it. They still loved him.

And besides, that loss was nothing like the one they were facing now.

As Matt lay there, it was probably easy to think of him as an angel. But he was still only human. He had his foibles. His mother would later recall that he smoked too much — including a little weed from time to time — he drank too much sometimes, and he didn’t study enough.

And now there was something else to worry about. Just after Matt was admitted to the hospital, they conducted an HIV test as part of a standard battery of tests. Matt came up positive. He had been tested every six months for the past three years, ever since he was sexually assaulted in Morocco, but those tests always came up negative. Was this a delayed reaction? Or, more likely, was this a very recent infection? In any event, it’s probable that Matt himself didn’t even know.

There was always things to worry about with Matt. Despite his small size, he was very quick to stick up for himself and others, and he didn’t always care who the offender was. If he saw something that he knew was wrong, he couldn’t let it go by. What’s more, he really did seem somewhat naive about his belief in the innate goodness in people. And that, coupled with his size, had scared both of his parents. It made him vulnerable in Morocco, and it made him vulnerable wherever he saw an injustice.

We don’t know where Matt’s family’s thoughts ran as they sat with him ten years ago today in that surgical-neuro intensive care unit, with the ventilator, the temperature, hearbeat and blood preasure monitors, and all the other equipment around his bed. It’s virtually impossible for anyone else to put themselves in their shoes.

But we do know that ten years ago today outside that intensive care room, the nurses were distributing an over-abundance of flowers to patients throughout the hospital, and hospital staff were busy fielding phone calls and emails from around the world.

And we know that ten years ago today in Laramie, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, members of the LGBT Association gathered to observe the tenth National Coming Out Day to kick off a week of activities for Gay Awareness Week. The gathering took on special meaning ten years ago today, not just because of the somber reality of Matt’s beating that week, but also because Matt was missing from among them. He had helped to plan some of those events.

And we know that ten years ago today, Bill McKinney, father of Aaron McKinney, one of Matt’s attackers, told Reuters that while there was no excuse for what his son was accused of doing, the attack didn’t deserve national attention. McKinney was also quoted as saying, “Had this been a heterosexual these two boys decided to take out and rob, this never would have made the national news.”

And we know that back in Fort Collins ten years ago, Poudre Valley Hospital put out one more medical update. It read:

As of 3 p.m. today, Matthew Shepard continues to remain in critical condition with severe head injuries.

As of today, the hospital will no longer offer medical updates on a scheduled basis as we have for the last three days to accommodate the media. We ask that you use our phone-in line and our web site to keep track of Matthew’s medical condition.

If Matthew’s medical condition changes, we will issue a new medical update and, depending on the significance of the change, we will immediately contact as many members of the media as is practically possible.

Ten years ago today, as crowds continued to gather outside the hospital to keep vigil, Matthew Shepard lay quietly in the surgical-neuro intensive care unit, surrounded by his family and the things he loved. This was his fifth day since that awful night, and it would be his last full day with his family.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows

Jim Burroway

October 10th, 2008

Ten years ago today fell on a Saturday. For four days now, Matthew Shepard has continued to cling to life. He’s comatose, and breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

This day was also Homecoming Day for the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where Matthew had been a student. The homecoming parade consisted of the usual procession of floats and marching bands, but the final group to march in the parade was a late addition. It consisted of a disorganized group of about a hundred people — students, teachers, university employees, and townspeople. Many of them wore yellow and green armbands. As they marched quietly by at the conclusion of the parade, spectators began to step off the sidewalks and joining in. By the time the parade reached campus, somewhere between five hundred to eight hundred people had joined the march.

Later that day, there was a moment of silence at War Memorial Stadium just before the start of the game. UW players bowed quietly as they held their helmets at their sides. The helmets bore special emblems designed by the University Multicultural Committee in honor of Matthew.

Ten years ago today was also Homecoming Day at Colorado State University in Fort Collins — the very city in which Matt lay comatose and surrounded by family. CSU’s parade however was a little different. A float co-sponsored by the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority carried a scarecrow decorated with anti-gay epithets. The signs hung on the scarecrow reportedly read “I’m Gay” and “Up My Ass.” CSU quickly punished eleven students and banned the two organizations from campus.

Meanwhile, Poudre Valley Hospital continued to issued medical updates on Matthew’s condition, like this one at 3 p.m.:

Matthew’s major injuries upon arrival consisted of hypothermia and a fracture from behind his head to just in front of the right ear. This has caused bleeding in the brain, as well as pressure on the brain. There were also approximately a dozen small lacerations around his head, face and neck.

Matthew has a massive brain stem injury. The brain stem controls vital signs, such as heart beat, body temperature and other involuntary functions.

Matthew’s temperature has fluctuated over the last 24 hours, ranging from 98 to 106 degrees. We have had difficulty controlling his temperature.

Hospital actions have included the surgeon inserting an intraventicular drain into his brain to relieve pressure by draining spinal fluid. The drain remains in and functional.

We are also continuing to control Matthew’s temperature. He remains on a ventilator which is assisting his breathing.

That was followed by another medical update at 9 p.m.:

Since our last medical update at 3 p.m. October 10, Matthew Shepard has remained in critical condition.

Matthew is in the surgical-neuro intensive care unit in our Regional Neuroscience Center located within the hospital. He remains in critical condition with severe head injuries. Respiratory support continues to be provided. He remains on a ventilator.

Matthew came to us on October 7 from Ivinson Hospital in Laramie by way of ambulance. He was admitted in critical condition at approximately 9:15 p.m. October 7. When he arrived, he was unresponsive and breathing support was being provided.

Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, remained by his bedside and continued to refuse all requests for interviews. Instead, they released a statement thanking “the American public for their kind thoughts about Matthew and their fond wishes for his speedy recovery. We appreciate your prayers and good will, and we know they are something Matthew would appreciate, too.”

The statement went on the recall Matthew’s life and the values that he held:

“Matthew has traveled all over the world. He speaks three languages: English, German and Italian. He loves Europe, but he also loves Laramie and the University of Wyoming. We feel that, if he was giving this statement himself, he would emphasize he does not want the horrible actions of a few very disturbed individuals to mar the fine reputations of Laramie or the university.

They thanked the sheriff’s department and the hospital staff, and they asked the media for privacy, saying, “Matthew is very much in need of his family at this time, and we ask that you respect our privacy, as well as Matthew’s so we can concentrate all of our efforts, thoughts and love on our son.”

While Matt’s parents focused all of their efforts on their son, an estimated five hundred people gathered outside the hospital to keep vigil for him. The hospital has received so many flowers that nurses had started to distribute bouquets to other patients.

In Washington, D.C., President Bill Clinton and House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt both issued statements contemning the attack and calling on Congress to amend the hate crimes law to include sexual orientation.

Very little has changed since ten years ago. Pi Kappa Alpha was reinstated at Colorado State University about a year and a half after that infamous homecoming parade, only to be expelled again in 2005. Alpha Chi Omega’s charter for the CSU house was permanently revoked by the national organization. It now appears unlikely they will ever return to CSU.

Ten years later, the federal hate crimes law continues to cover race and religion. It still doesn’t cover sexual orientation.

And ten years later, Wyoming still doesn’t have a state hate crimes law to cover sexual orientation either.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Also Today In History: Details Emerge

Jim Burroway

October 9th, 2008

Ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard’s attackers were arraigned in court.

According to reports, Aaron James McKinney and Russel Arthur Henderson, both 21, were arraigned on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery. Two accomplices were also arraigned. They were Chasity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18. They were charged with being accessories after the fact.

Fireside LoungeAccording to reports that had emerged to date, McKinney and Hendersen befriended Matthew at the Fireside Lounge, told him they were gay, and lured them to their pick-up truck to give him a ride home. Somewhere near the Wal-Mart, McKinney turned to Matthew and said, “Guess what? We’re not gay, and you’ve just been jacked,” and started beating him inside the truck. They drove out to a field on Snowy Mountain View Road, then dragged Matthew to a fence post, where he was “tied spread-eagle, beaten and burned,” then left to die.

It would later emerge that Matthew hadn’t been burned, nor had he been tied “spread-eagle.” Instead, his hands were tied behind his back, and tied to the fence post just a few inches above the ground. But this early report of being tied “spread-eagle,” along with early descriptions of his being mistaken for a scarecrow, led to later images of Matthew hanging by his arms, appearing as an upright scarecrow or as someone who had been crucified.

Court documents told a clearer story. Shepard was “struck in the head with a pistol,” and the suspects “beat him, while he begged for his life.” According to one report, Shepard received a 2-inch deep gash in his head, crushing his skull. They took his wallet and shoes, and left him tied to the ranch fence, unconscious and barely breathing. The temperature had dropped into the low 30s during the 18 hours Shepard was left outside.

Then McKinney and Hendersen then met up with Pasley and Price, who helped them dispose of their bloody clothing.

Laramie Police commander Dave O’Malley said that while robbery was the chief motive, Matthew was singled out in part because he was gay. He also added that in his 25 years on the police force, he had seen a few hate crimes over the years, “but nothing anywhere near this.”

Matthew was unconscious upon discovery. He has not regained consciousness since then. “They’re not expecting him to ever wake up,” Walter Boulden, a friend of Matthew’s, said.

McKinney and Henderson were then involved with another assault within the same hour. Further investigation stemming from that assault eventually led police to the suspects in Matthew’s beating.

Flowers At the Fence PostA basket of dried flowers appeared on the fence post where Matthew Shepard was left to die. The Denver Post reported that one local resident “wasn’t shocked to hear a gay man had been beaten so severely.” She said: “Here in the rural West, such intolerance still is not that unusual.”

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”

Jim Burroway

October 9th, 2008

Ten years ago today, Dennis and Judy Shepard, exhausted by their long travel and numbed by the news, stepped into the intensive care unit of Poudre Valley Hospital and saw their son, Matthew Shepard, for the first time since seeing him off to college just a few months earlier.

Dennis and Judy were in Saudi Arabia, where Dennis worked, when they got a call in the middle of the night. Phone calls in the middle of the night is never good news. For Dennis and Judy, the news was beyond imagination — beyond belief. The Shepards had to endure a nineteen hour wait for a flight to begin their long thirty-hour journey to Fort Collins, Colorado. During that long flight home, they had no idea that news of Matthew’s beating had made headlines worldwide. They saw that it was front-page news when they arrived in Ft. Collins, but they didn’t know the extent of the attention nationwide.

When they got to the hospital, staff had to sneak them in to avoid the press. Once they got inside the hospital, the outside world disappeared.

“That sort of information just washes over you when you are trying to be there for your son,” Shepard said of the media attention showered on her family. …

“Dennis likened it to a prairie fire; it went so fast,” Shepard said of the media explosion and the mythology that blew up around her son’s death.

National networks came, national and regional newspapers posted correspondents in Laramie. Radio stations also joined in the fray.

“I just felt it was invasive and improper when we just wanted to spend time with him,” she said.

What Dennis and Judy saw must have been devastating. His aunt and uncle had earlier describe Matthew’s appearance to the press as as horrifying, with wounds concentrated on his head and face. The most severe blow was inflicted with a gun and probably caused irreparable brain damage, R.W. Eaton said. “He looks like hell,” Roxanne Rose said. “I can’t explain it. I don’t know how to explain it. He is hanging onto life by a thread.” Said Eaton: “It’s like something you might see in war.”

Doctors encouraged the family to bring familiar items to Matthew’s bed, in case he still had some lingering awareness. So they filled his room with sunflowers and the music of John Fogerty and Elton John. Judy wore the perfume he had given her for Christmas.

That same evening in Laramie, people gathered for candlelight vigil. The news bulletins and medical updates from Poudre Valley Hospital were grim.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today In History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: Two Men Arrested

Jim Burroway

October 8th, 2008

Ten years ago today, on October 8, 1998, Laramie, Wyoming police arrested Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson, both 21, and charged them with attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery of Matthew Shepard.

McKinney’s and Henderson’s girlfriends, Chasity Vera Pasley, 20 and Kristen Leann Price, 18, were also arrested and charged with being accessories after the fact. Police said the women women helped McKinney and Henderson dump their bloody clothing.

Albany County Sheriff Gary Puls announced the arrests of Henderson, Pasley, and Price at 4:30 in the afternoon. McKinney was arrested later at 11:30 pm at Pudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he had been treated for a skull fracture that he suffered during a fight early in the morning on the day before.

Meanwhile, ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard is in a coma at that very same hospital, where he remains in critical condition.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today In History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”

Jim Burroway

October 7th, 2008

Ten years ago today at around 6:30 PM, Aaron Kreifels was riding his bicycle on Snowy Mountain View Road, just outside of Laramie, Wyoming, when he wiped out near the end of a rough buck-and-rail fence. In the fall, he severely damaged his front tire. Aaron got up to try to figure out how to get back into town when he was startled by what he thought was a scarecrow. He took a closer look and discovered that it wasn’t a scarecrow, but a 5-foot-2, 102 pound University of Wyoming student by the name of Matthew Shepard.

Aaron was further surprised to see that the bloody figure was still alive, though barely. Matthew was comatose, breathing “as if his lungs are full of blood,” Aaron would later testify. It had been a very cold day that day with a 30-degree freezing wind the night before, and it was now evening again. Matthew had been there for more than 18 hours, laying on his back, head propped against the fence, his legs outstretched. His hands were tied behind him, and the rope was tied to a fence post just four inches off the ground. His shoes were missing.

Aaron, in a state of panic, ran to the nearby home of Charles Dolan. From there, they called 911, and then the both of them returned to Matthew to wait for the sheriff’s deputy to arrive. Deputy Reggie Fluty later testified that the only spots not covered in blood on Matt’s brutally disfigured face were tracks cleansed by his tears. She told the barely breathing victim, “Baby, I’m so sorry this happened.”

Matthew was rushed to Poudre Valley Hospital’s intensive care unit in critical condition. He suffered fractures from the back of his head to the front of his right ear from being pistol-whipped by a 357-Magnum more than twenty times. He had severe brain stem damage which affected his body’s ability to control heart rate, breathing, temperature, and other involuntary functions. There were lacerations around his head, face and neck. He had welts on his back and arm, and bruised knees and groin. He had also suffered from hypothermia.

His injuries were too severe for doctors to operate. They did however insert a drain into Matthew’s skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.

By the end of ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard was laying quietly in a soft, warm bed with clean sheets after having spent eighteen hours in the freezing high plains of Wyoming tied to a fence post. He was breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie

Jim Burroway

October 7th, 2008

Ten years ago today, police in Laramie, Wyoming were called to investigate a fight during the very early morning hours. The two young men had attacked two others who were vandalizing cars. One was hit so hard, his skull was fractured.

Everyone fled the scene when police arrived, but they found the pickup truck driven by one of the men. Inside, they saw evidence that suggested there was more going on than a simple street fight. According to Sgt. Flint Waters:

“I looked in the back of the truck and laying in the back of the truck was a large-frame revolver. The thing was huge, like an 8-inch barrel that had blood all over it. And there was some rope and a coat in the truck; there was I believe a shoe sitting in the front. … Seeing that the gun was covered in blood, I assumed that there was more going on than what we’d stumbled onto so far.”

Meanwhile, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence post, severely beaten and comatose. Police wouldn’t find him for another eighteen hours.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Jim Burroway

October 6th, 2008

Ten years ago today, the world had never heard of Matthew Shepard. That’s because up until ten years ago today, he was just another 21-year-old gay college student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Well, not just another college student. He showed great promise. He had attended two years of high school at the American School in Switzerland during the time his family moved temporarily to Saudi Arabia. He had a particular talent for learning languages and he had a special love for community theater. In college, he was active in the university’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Association, and he was chosen as a student representative to the Wyoming Environmental Council. Friends described him as easy, outgoing, and approachable, with a special gift of relating to almost everyone.

And yet, he really was just another college kid. His mother, Judy Shepard, says he was “just living his life as a 21-year-old college student who smoked too much, drank too much and didn’t study enough.”

But ten years ago today proved to be Matthew’s last full day as an ordinary college student.

Ten years ago today was a Tuesday, right in the middle of midterms at UW. Matthew had a French exam to study for, but he decided to wind up early that evening and go over to an LGBTA meeting. The main item on the agenda for the meeting was to put the final touches on plans for Gay Awareness Week, which was to be held on campus beginning on Sunday.

After the meeting ended, Matthew went back home. But then he decided to go out again to the Fireside Lounge. There, he met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who posed as visiting students from California.

Sometime after midnight, in the very early morning hours of ten years ago tomorrow, Matthew decided to take McKinney and Henderson up on an offer for a ride home.

And sometime after that, Matthew Shepard was no longer just an ordinary college student.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History : Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

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