Matthew 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 sandy-haired 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 ques­tion­ing 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.

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