Sunday, October 12, 2008

Matthew Shepard's murder 10 years later

LARAMIE, Wyo. - There are those tragedies that change the way people think about an issue, the way they talk about it.

For instance, 9/11 changed the way we talk about terrorism. 

Matthew Shepard changed the way we talked about violence that’s based in bigotry. 

In the early morning hours of October 8, 1998, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson viciously beat Shepard, tied him to a fence and left his broken body exposed to the harsh night. 

He died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins on October 12. 

Jim Osborn was a leader in the gay community at University of Wyoming - the college Shepard was attending - when this happened. 

He knew Shepard and, when Shepard died, Osborn knew his purpose in life. 

“I knew that this was where I was supposed to be and to continue the outreach and education that we’ve been doing for years,” he said. 

Osborn stayed at UW and watched Matthew Shepard’s murder become an agent of change. 

“I think nationwide, we talk more about discrimination and violence and hatred,” he said. “I think we talk about bias and prejudice more.” 

Last month, Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis, participated in a bench dedication at the University of Wyoming. 

Judy Shepard - who has been a tireless promoter of gay rights - said the change in attitude across the country has not been matched by a change in federal law. 

Specifically, she wants hate crimes legislation passed by Congress. 

“You have to bring the base up to meet the legislators and have them tell their stories about what their lives are like so that everyone is aware of the lives they lead,” she said. 

Judy Shepard knows her son has been an effective poster child in the fight to end intolerance, but she also knows continued change depends on those like Jim Osborn, those who are willing to speak out. 

“I think about the fact that Matt wanted to make the world a better place and his voice has been silenced, he can’t do that anymore,” Osborn said.

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