Oct. 16, 1998: Matthew Shepard's Funeral

Anti-gay group protests at Matthew Shepard's funeral in Wyoming.
9:06 | 10/15/11

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Transcript for Oct. 16, 1998: Matthew Shepard's Funeral
Even on the day He was buried Matthew Shepard was not allowed to rest in peace. Despite the pleas of his father to let the family mourn in private. Anti gay protesters gathered across the street from the church to -- their slogans and to engage onlookers and angry debate. In more thoughtful settings it's a debate that has been going on across the country. Ever since Matthew Shepard was found nine days ago beaten almost to death and tied to a fence. How much of a threat to -- routinely live under have anti gay comments by the religious right contributed to attacks. And what can be done to stop the violence. Tonight you're going to meet a gay filmmaker who traveled the country to talk with men who have murdered homosexuals. He says these men feel some sort of license to kill guys. But first Nightline's Michel McQueen in Wyoming. On the funeral of Matthew Shepherd and a debate that rages all. For. A son of Wyoming was mourned today. At a private family funeral in Casper his hometown. The steadfast love of the lord never ceases. Controversies never come to an end. And a public memorial in Laramie. Where Matthew Shepherd went to college made many friends and last week crossed paths with two men now accused of luring him from a bar to rob him. Fracturing his skull with a gun and leaving him tied to a fence to die. But -- friends focused on celebrating shepherd's life for others the day provoked yet more discussion of how and why Shepard died. Because authorities believe Sheppard was targeted in part because He was -- His death has sparked a national debate over the limits of tolerance for homosexuals. And how far society should go to protect them from those who despise them. Should something like this happen again in the future of this on grade. Five the debate came back home to Wyoming today as picketers from an extreme anti gay group from Kansas -- to demonstrate -- sheppard's funeral. They had blanketed the local media with profane leaflets to make sure they were noticed. You're here because it's your home -- home. Activity -- for a -- bags their healthy lifestyle but although community leaders. Condemned that protest it was perhaps only in the noisiest version of a quiet debate that has gone on here all week long. As the residents of this conservative and rural states have struggled with their attitudes about difference. At about the true meaning of right and wrong. And nowhere has that debate that more intense than here in Laramie with a 21 year old shepherd had moved to finish his studies. All week residents have organized vigils. Don arm bands and hung signs to express their anger and sorrow. These two graduate students had been working with meeting undergraduates all week. They drove out to pray at the fence -- Shepard was found. I just wanted to come out in Tennessee where it'll happen in just. -- try to get a feeling for what it must been like. Sitting out here that. It's pretty emotional. And while today's topic was political participation I feel that it's probably more important it's definitely more important. That we take some time. To -- views and concerns. Over this situation. Many faculty members have urged their students to examine attitudes on a deeper level. We need to talk about this on two levels -- -- we need to talk about it on the personal level Matthews human being and we need to feel that. But we also need to talk about it on this other level what does this mean as there's something that can be done. Within our society. Within our own communities. For many it is a painful exercise. Into the matter if you would -- knife into -- and punished like that for any reason they could've just killing fellow at what you think that the and I just don't understand how anybody could do that when He would be. The whole state is grieving along with their family there's 450000. People in the state. That don't agree with the four individuals or three individuals that did this. When I first heard about this incident from -- -- active and I wasn't all that. Upset at first but you know I mean in. Understanding that He was never this class and -- never my discussion class. It starts hitting home than it really -- thinks in that there was no other reason besides hate for this kind. It's really drawn the community together I think we had a choice. We can -- to deal with us individually. We can intelligence community to stand out against violence and prejudice. -- ink and father Roger -- our campus ministers at the university's Catholic center of the tragedy of Matthews. -- Has already done and created some very good thing I'm not trying to say that justifies his being killed. But -- to get people to talk us to pray about it you know Matthew is doing wonderful things among us. And that's powerful. And one of the -- challenges they must face here is to help students reconcile their moral reservations about homosexuality. With their human compassion for his suffering. Sometimes. People feel and you feel that they can justify. Just about anything they want to say about someone who is -- -- And I just don't think you can square that with cheeses. If one calls themselves Christians. We need to say hide -- relief -- release. What language do I use what jokes to light. Because that's a form of via -- Bob Norris is pastor of one of the area's largest Baptist churches He worries that people may be reading too much into an isolated incident. They need in the knee jerk reaction. And killing him. Their girlfriends say that from what they've learned from their boyfriends they didn't have a chilling image is kinda -- away. But they may need your reaction and I think that for some people. Within the gay community there are overreacting as well there's a second. -- that -- -- and that is why on earth can't. Those who promote special rights for homosexuals. Leave this poor man alone. And back. But many in the small tightly -- gay community find it difficult not to react we were asked to film only a portion of this interfaith memorial service for -- Because some participants were afraid to be photographed. Fear and hatred are very powerful and they make people do very crazy things. Good what I know for sure there's that. Matthew has gone to a better place He is gone to a place that has no hate. And in -- way I envy him. Because. He will not ever know that again. If they had just garment. Just because of a drunk getting kicks. -- -- the fact that He was doing however. That's struck fear throughout the community it brings up stuff for people. -- company owner Debbie -- spends her days and nights taking the pulse of -- she says there. Is a lot of her to go around for it for awhile we were afraid that it was really gonna -- the -- -- we were afraid it was going to. Cause a huge rift between the university people man of the people that live in town. We just I don't think anybody really has any idea. You know what what this can do to a town or what it has or what says the long term. The effects are going to be. Back at the fireside bar where shepherds alleged assailants claim He made pass -- but customers are back. The media are almost gone but no one believes the story is over. I think he's gonna stick around I think -- in the media attention -- has received. People. I think partially because the issue of discrimination against homosexuals and is back then. -- -- -- Wyoming have a -- like this past and talking about Spanish news. In the people into thinking about it. We're back and then he's been thinking about. Her actions your reactions people. This is Michel McQueen for Nightline. In Laramie.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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