Tragic Death of Gay Wyoming Student Begs for End to Hatemongering

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Oldest and largest gay legal group says anti-gay discrimination fuels violence
October 12, 1998

(NEW YORK, October 12, 1998) -- Responding to the death of Matthew Shepard on Monday, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said anti-gay violence goes hand in hand with the hatemongering and prejudice commonly voiced by anti-gay extremists, including some public officials around the country.

"This University of Wyoming student was beaten and left to die, tied to a fence like an animal, because he was honest and open about being gay. Matthew Shepard's horrible suffering and death cannot be dismissed simply as the fault of deranged, isolated individuals. His attackers are among millions of Americans who constantly hear the message that gay people are not worthy of the most basic equal treatment," said Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn.

"By simply being ourselves and saying there's nothing wrong with us because we are gay, we risk everything -- from our lives to our jobs or custody of our children. The first step in ending this kind of violence, which took Matthew's life, is to end anti-gay discrimination and the hostility that it fosters.

"For example, with the Military's 'don't ask, don't tell,' the United States government continues to insist that troops cannot be expected to accept service members who are openly gay," Dohrn said.

"In Hawaii, and elsewhere in the country, Lambda also is fighting for the freedom for gay couples to marry and for basic respect for our families. At the U.S. Supreme Court, Lambda is urging an end to a sweeping anti-gay initiative from Cincinnati, that was supported by some of the same extremist groups now promoting anti-gay newspaper and television advertisements around the country."

Noting that reported anti-gay violence last year increased a dramatic 34 percent at schools and colleges, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Dohrn said, "In Utah, Lambda continues a court battle with school officials who actually refuse to allow students at a Salt Lake City school to organize against anti-gay brutality and harassment."

"Gaybashers do not make subtle distinctions between calls for anti-gay discrimination and anti- gay violence," Dohrn said, adding, "It is well past time for public officials and extremists to take responsibility for the hurt they promote against gay people and to join us in seeking equal treatment for all."

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