Shepard’s murder still haunts many after 20 years
When two roofing workers beat a young gay man to death in Wyoming in 1998, the gruesome crime quickly reverberated around the U.S. and turned the sandyhaired college student into a powerful symbol of the quest for acceptance and equal rights.
But two decades after Matthew Shepard was bludgeoned, tied to a rail fence and left to die on the cold high prairie, the emotions stirred up by his slaying linger in Wyoming, which still struggles with its tarnished identity and resists changes sought by the LGBTQ community.
“We’re nowhere near done,” said Sara Burlingame, executive director of the Cheyenne-based LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality. The group’s work today “is the same thing that was there 20 years ago.”
As recently as Tuesday, days before the anniversary of Shepard’s death, about 200 people attended a forum in Laramie question- ing the prevailing view that he was murdered because of his sexual orientation. Wyoming Equality protested by holding a dance at a civic center down the street, using the slogan “When They Go Low … We Go Dance.”
The acrimony over Shepard’s legacy runs high here, just as it did when anti-gay and gay-rights protesters squared off at his funeral in Casper. Even now, people associate Laramie with the murder.