The 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, put a spotlight on hate crimes targeting homosexuals. A pair of men posing as gay bargoers kidnapped and tortured Shepard, beating him into a coma. He was alive when a cyclist found him, but later died of brain damage suffered during the attack.
The two suspects, who were convicted, tried to use "gay panic" as part of their defense.
Shepard's murder has inspired lawmakers in Washington, who have spent years trying to pass measures aimed at strengthening existing federal hate crime laws to make it easier to prosecute crimes based on sexual orientation bias. The bill, officially called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, is also known as the Matthew Shepard Act. Versions of the bill have passed both the House and Senate, but the bias provisions were dropped during conference.
Hate crime laws exist in all 50 states, but vary from state to state and do not all include crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.