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Posts for March, 2011

Civil unions dropped from Wyoming anti-marriage bill

Timothy Kincaid

March 1st, 2011

House Bill 74 would ban the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. Wyoming law, which was written before the first same-sex marriages, defines marriage as a contract “between a male and a female person” but also recognizes any valid marriage performed outside the state – a discrepancy which put same-sex marriages in limbo.

HB74 has passed both the Wyoming House and Senate, but in sharply different versions. Both banned the recognition of civil unions, but the Senate provided that state courts could address the dissolution of civil unions from other states and the House specifically banned courts from addressing such couples.

Until a few hours ago, it looked as though this bill might die due to an inability of the committee assigned to work out the discrepancy to reach any conclusion. The Senate had barely passed the bill and the Governor had indicated that he would veto the bill if it did not allow courts to remedy the legal problems of gay couples in a civil union. But the House was insistent that allowing same-sex couples to seek resolution in court was tantamount to giving the state’s sanction to their union.

Finally, the least likely of compromises was reached

But with the Legislature set to adjourn for the year on Thursday, the conference committee took out all language dealing with civil unions and court access.

Conference committee members said the changes bring the bill closer to other states’ Defense of Marriage acts. They also said it was better to have a narrowed bill than no bill at all, and they said it would be up to future Legislatures to tackle the issue of civil unions.

It must now go back to the House and Senate for approval of the revisions.

Wyoming Marriage Ban Dies

Jim Burroway

February 28th, 2011

After a proposed constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed the state Senate, it went on to die in the House:

The Wyoming House adjourned Friday without taking action on a same-sex marriage bill that had already passed the state Senate. The bill failed to meet a procedural deadline that would have kept the bill alive.

It’s still unclear whether a separate bill banning recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages will clear the House. The snag is over whether they will allow Wyoming Courts to dissolve civil unions performed in other states.

Wyoming Senate narrowly votes not to recognize out-of-state marriages

Timothy Kincaid

February 18th, 2011

Tribune:

The Wyoming Senate narrowly voted Friday to stop recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions from outside the state.

House Bill 74 passed 16-14 after tagging on a last-second amendment guaranteeing out-of-state couples in civil unions access to Wyoming courts.

This is closer than might have been expected. Ten Republicans joined all four Democrats in voting “No”.

Further, the language of this bill is interesting. It appears to invalidate all same-sex marriage, but only invalidate civil unions that would not be recognized in Wyoming. I may be misreading this, but it does seem to leave open the possibility of a civil unions bill being passed.

Wyoming House committee rejects civil unions

Timothy Kincaid

January 30th, 2011

From the Star-Tribune

Legislation that would have made Wyoming the third state to recognize civil unions narrowly failed in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.

The 5-4 vote to defeat House Bill 150 came after hours of impassioned testimony from supporters who said civil unions would give same-sex couples basic rights and opponents who claimed civil unions were a thinly disguised stepping stone to gay marriage.

Some who voted against the bill left open the possibility of support for a differently worded bill.

But state Reps. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, and Frank Peasley, R-Douglas, who cast the deciding votes against the bill, opposed the proposal not on ideological grounds, but rather because they worried the wording of the bill — which almost exactly mirrored the rights and responsibilities Wyoming law lists for marriage -– could lead to legal pitfalls in the future.

In the meanwhile, I would support a petition to have Wyoming change it’s motto from “Equal Rights” and it’s nickname from “the Equality State”.

And with Wyoming’s bill to ban recognition of out-of-state relationships, I would just love to see California, New Jersey, and others pass a truth in advertising law that requires all tourism advertising in the state to warn residents that their legal rights and contracts will not be honored.

Will Wyoming Governor veto “no out of state marriages” bill?

Timothy Kincaid

January 27th, 2011

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead (R) made a statement today that suggests that he is not supportive of a bill that would deny recognition of out-of-state marriages or civil unions. (NECN.com)

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Mead said he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“But I also believe that we have to be very careful and pragmatic about how we approach this,” said Mead, a former U.S. attorney in Wyoming. “And the reason is that we do not want to, as a state, limit access to our court system.”

Child custody or property issues can arise with same-sex couples as they do in any marriage, Mead said. “You could have a situation where those needed to be decided quickly. We do not want to say to that couple, ‘Listen, you can’t use our courts. You have to go back to the state where you were married.’”

This certainly sounds to me as though Mead, who has previously indicated potential support for civil unions, would welcome some mechanism by which legal arrangements from out-of-state would have civil union status.

Wyoming Senate passes anti-marriage constitutional amendment

Timothy Kincaid

January 27th, 2011

The Wyoming Senate has voted by the required two-thirds to present a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage – but not civil unions – to the voters of the state. Although the state has a 23 to 7 Republican majority, ten Senators voted against the measure.

The amendment now goes to the House, where it will need 40 members’ support. Although the House has 41 Republicans, this may not be an easy task. On Monday the vote to not recognize out-of-state marriages passed 32 – 27.

Meanwhile, House Bill 150 which would provide for civil unions, will be debated by the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, where it appears to have adequate support.

Wyoming to ban marriage but pass Civil Unions?

Timothy Kincaid

January 24th, 2011

Wyoming has been a bit of a question when it comes to marriage equality. State law did not prohibit recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, but no state agency had done so. Today, the House passed a bill to ban recognition of out of state marriage and civil unions by a 32-27 vote.

Considering that the House has 41 Republicans and 19 Democrats, this was a rather close vote. The bill now goes to the State Senate, which has a 23 to 7 Republican majority. (trib)

State Rep. Owen Petersen, R-Mountain View, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation is needed to resolve a conflict in Wyoming law, which defines marriage as a contract “between a male and a female person” but also recognizes any valid marriage performed outside the state. Other supporters have said the bill will help to hold back government intrusion into Wyoming traditions and culture.

And on Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage by a 3-2 vote. Although an amendment would require support from 20 Senators and 40 House members, and some Republicans are on record as supporting marriage-equality, it has strong support and could pass.

But while this is all troubling news, state legislators may prove unwilling to completely disregard the state’s motto, “Equal Rights,” or its it’s nickname, “The Equality State.” They may instead take a middle position that allows them to be “The (separation but) Equality State”. (trib)

This week, the House Judiciary Committee will take up legislation to establish civil unions in Wyoming that would give same-sex couples in the state the same legal rights and benefits as married couples.

The bill, House Bill 150, appears to have the votes to pass the Judiciary Committee.

State Rep. Cathy Connolly, the Laramie Democrat who’s sponsoring HB150, said she’s “very optimistic” the bill will pass the full House, as many gay marriage opponents have said they support civil unions.

Governor Matt Mead (R) has also indicated that he is open to the idea of civil unions. If House Bill 150 becomes law, it would be the first time that an overwhelmingly Republican state government had supported recognition on this level for same-sex couples.

I strongly believe that civil unions are inferior to marriage and that our community ought to strive for full equality. But absent that political possibility, I consider each small step towards equality to be a victory. And if civil unions is seen as supportable for western-state libertarian-minded Republicans, then our community certainly has something to celebrate.

Wyoming Lawmakers Take Aim At Marriage

Jim Burroway

December 31st, 2010

Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Wyoming, but two GOP state lawmakers, Rep. Owen Petersen Sen. Curt Meier, see an opportunity to make it even more illegaller. They plan on introducing a resolution asking Wyoming voters to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage again. A similar resolution in 2009 failed, but that was before the GOP landslide in November.

Wheatland WY is a place for hate

Timothy Kincaid

January 23rd, 2010

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 to oppose the defamation of Jewish people. Although their primary focus is still on anti-Semitism, they have expanded their focus to oppose all forms of bigotry, defend democratic ideals and protect civil rights for all.

One of their current projects is a school based anti-bullying program called No Place for Hate.

No Place for Hate® was developed to organize schools to work together and develop projects that enhance the appreciation of diversity and foster harmony amongst diverse groups. The campaign empowers schools to promote respect for individual and group differences while challenging prejudice and bigotry.

Every day we make choices. We can choose to let anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of bigotry go unchallenged and potentially escalate, or we can choose to confront the bias that we see in our workplaces, homes, schools, and communities. As our world becomes smaller and our schools and communities more diverse, it is more critical than ever to actively build bridges to cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect.

bannerSchools across the nation participate in the program, including Wheatland High and West Elementary in Wheatland, Wyoming. They went through the steps of qualifying for participation and received banners which they hung at school, announcing that their campuses were No Place for Hate.

But then there were some protests and the banners were removed. In order to offer the program free to schools, ADL had sponsors whose names were included at the bottom of the banner.

They weren’t upset that Qwest, the communications company was listed. And they didn’t mind that the David & Laura Merage Foundation helped pay for the program. But that red circle with the words “Gay and Lesbian Fund” was simply unacceptable. So down they will stay. (WyomingNews)

Platte County School District 1 trustees voted 4-3 to keep the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” banners down at Wheatland High and West Elementary.

The trustees made no pretense at masking their anti-gay animus:

“If this is the way one chooses, then they can lead this particular lifestyle, but I don’t believe it needs to be publicly displayed in a school,” Dunham said.

Joe Fabian, another board member, said he believes the Anti-Defamation League is pushing an “agenda that is pro-gay marriage” and that the community of Wheatland is not supportive of that.

“They wouldn’t want the organization, the Anti-Defamation League, dictating to their children that an alternate lifestyle is a normal lifestyle,” he said.

Oh, but they like the rest of the program. Can’t they just continue with being a ‘not place for hate except for gays‘?

No. The ADL was quick to note the irony and will not not let the schools participate in the program if they encourage and reward biases.

So Wheatland, Wyoming, a seventy-five mile drive from Laramie, now has a new designation, an adopted identity. Wheatland IS a Place for Hate. And if you’re a gay kid attending those schools, now you clearly know it.

No Marriage Ban on Wyoming Ballot

Timothy Kincaid

February 6th, 2009

Today the Wyoming House determined that it would not put an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment on the ballot. (AP)

The Wyoming House has voted down a bill that would have allowed Wyoming voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to deny state recognition of same-sex marriages.

Rep. Owen Petersen, R-Lyman, sponsored House Joint Resolution 17. It failed by a vote of 35-25 after frequently emotional debate that lasted more than an hour on Friday.

And according to Michael Petrelis, the House also defeated, by the same margin, a motion to ban the state from recognizing out-of-state gay marriages.

This is especially encouraging when one considers that Republicans have a 41 to 19 advantage over Democrats in the House.

UPDATE: According to the roll call vote, 16 Republicans joined all 19 Democrats to defeat this resolution.

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: 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

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