LARAMIE, Wyo. – The nation – and the city of Laramie – has become more accepting of gays and lesbians in the 10 years since a gay University of Wyoming student was beaten, lashed to a lonely fence and left to die, his mother said Saturday.
“We’ve learned a lot, we’ve talked a lot; we do it in public forums now,” Judy Shepard said at a ceremony dedicating a bench to her son, Matthew Shepard. “So it’s a wonderful tribute to Matt that these kinds of things are discussed.”
Shepard died Oct. 12, 1998, five days after he was found brutally beaten and tied to the fence outside Laramie. The two men who killed him are serving life sentences in prison.
The crime triggered nationwide sympathy and revulsion and brought a re-examination of attitudes toward gays.
Shepard’s parents established a foundation named after their son. Its stated goal is to “replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance.” It also helps young gay people find a safe environment.
Dennis Shepard said his son loved the university, Laramie and Wyoming.
“I cannot say enough about what the university has done since that day to take care of the students here and to open their arms and their hearts to the rest of their country of the lessons learned,” he said.
University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan said his college has established an annual social justice symposium named after Shepard; created a resource center to support gays, lesbians, bisexuals and others; and developed a center for social justice to research and expose sources of inequity in society.
“Through our actions, we will continue to demonstrate that diversity and inclusion are core values at UW,” Buchanan said. “Just as we live with the loss of Matt, we live every day at UW committed to the ideal that we treat all with dignity and respect. A memorial bench can serve as a reminder of that commitment, but we must continue to work hard to make it a reality.”