Lives Less Ordinary: The Matthew Shepard Murder 5 Years Later

Some use the same FBI statistics to argue against gay hate crime legislation: the numbers, they say, prove such laws have not detered crimes. Opponents of gay hate crime legislation argue it could be misused, and criminal cases could be mislabeled simply because of who the victims are.

Gay hate crimes legislation, others say, may unjustly target certain people because of their anti-gay beliefs, which are protected under the First Amendment.

And some say maintain legislation is only a part of the solution. Combating gay hate crimes means first targeting the sources of hate and bringing about a change of heart in those who justify attacking others because of differences.

"I may get in some trouble for this, but as far as bringing about real changes, it's not just about hate crime legislation," said Romaine Patterson, a gay activist and friend of Matthew Shepard. "This is really about hate and how it starts with every individual. We have to tackle hate on a personal level."

And maybe that is Matthew Shepard's legacy: recognizing that hate, in its various forms, must be attacked on a personal level, perhaps as early as elementary school. And that remembering that anyone — from a college student like Shepard to 15-year-old lesbian teenager Sakia Gunn, who was fatally stabbed in May after she allegedly rebuffed the advances of a man and told him she was a lesbian — can be a casualty of hate at any time.

"When Matt was killed, I remember seeing men in the office here who were just crying," Renna said. "When they heard about what happened to him, they saw themselves. When I first heard about Sakia Gunn, I couldn't help but start crying. I always mouth off at guys when I'm with my girlfriend. I thought, 'That could have been me.'"

Speaking for a Silenced Voice

Five years after his death, Shepard lives on through people who never met him — like Chief O'Malley — and his friends.

According to friends and acquaintances, Shepard had a bright future. Besides being active in theater, he had an interest in human rights and considered pursuing a career in international relations when his life was cut short at age 21. Some of Shepard's friends put aside their "ordinary" lives and emerged as local and national leaders in his memory.

"One of the greatest tragedies is that Matt was someone who wanted to make the world a better place and his voice has been silenced," said Jim Osborn, who was president of the University of Wyoming's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Association at the time of the slaying and has since spoken at several schools about its impact. "Since Matt could no longer speak, I, along with some of his friends, felt that we have a duty to speak for him."

Romaine Patterson became friends with Shepard when he was a student at Casper College before transferring to the University of Wyoming. She had always been an outspoken gay activist but Shepard's death put her on center stage to speak out on a national level — for her fallen friend, others who had been harassed because of their sexual orientation, and for herself.

"I was no longer just a girl from Wyoming," said Patterson, who is now a producer and co-host of the Derek and Romaine Show on SIRIUS, a New York-based satellite radio broadcast company. "I did a lot of interviews [during media coverage of Shepard's slaying] and worked for GLAAD. One of the things I learned after doing interviews and working on the other side as part of the media is that you do have the power to reach people and influence public opinion."

"I don't think there's been a day since where I don't talk about Matthew," Patterson continued. "As far how his death affected me, I guess it really made me think about what kind of person I wanted to be, how I wanted to be the kind of person who makes the world a better place."

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