Part 2: Our Hall of Fame
BY Advocate.com Editors
March 19 2012 1:00 AM ET
1998 is the year that the name Matthew Shepard became synonymous with the consequences of unchecked hatred. The cover of The Advocate declared, "His murder leaves blood on the hands of the the Far Right."
Shepard, beaten and left for dead the night of October 6 because he was gay, was found the next day in a remote spot outside Laramie, Wyo., and he died October 12. Aaron McKinney and accomplice Russell Henderson were convicted of the crime and are serving prison sentences. During the trial, McKinney used a “gay panic” defense, claiming Shepard came on to him and that triggered the violence, putting his antigay bias unashamedly on public display.
It wasn't until 2009 that Congress finally passed and President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that made what McKinney and Henderson did a federal crime.
The president gave Shepard's mother a kiss on the cheek after signing the bill, saying, "I promised Judy Shepard when she saw me in the Oval Office that this day would come.” She and her husband, Dennis, had fought a long fight to pass inclusive hate-crimes legislation in honor of their son and to protect those like him.