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Gay rights groups
denied presence on Montana college campus

Gay rights groups
denied presence on Montana college campus

Carroll College in Helena, Mont., says it will not allow the Montana Human Rights Network to set up a table on campus next week during a lecture by Matthew Shepard's mother because of threats from a radical anti gay group. Judy Shepard is scheduled to speak at the college Tuesday about the impact of the death of her son, a gay 21-year-old who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998. The case drew international attention after it was reported that Matthew Shepard was killed because he was gay. His killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, deny that the attack was a hate crime and say their goal was to rob Matthew Shepard for drug money. Christine Kaufmann, codirector of the Human Rights Network, said the organization wanted to set up a table with brochures at the lecture because the college is "dancing around" the theory that Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay. "We thought that it was important, since they were not willing to say he was gay, that there should be something about gay and lesbian equality there," Kaufmann said. "It's also important for people in the community to support the organizations that work to carry forth the kind of climate that promotes tolerance."

Nancy Lee, spokeswoman for Carroll, said the purpose of the lecture is to promote tolerance. But the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, known for its strongly worded anti-gay literature, has threatened to picket the event. One flier from the group even makes reference to the use of "improvised explosive devices," Lee said. The police have been notified, security will be on hand, and no picketers will be allowed on the private campus, Lee said. Still, Westboro members could enter the public lecture unnoticed, then disrupt it, she said. "The table request is where it gets difficult," Lee said. "If we had the tables out there, we're just asking for a confrontation, and we don't want to go there." In a letter to Kaufmann, Jim Harwick, vice president for student life at Carroll, said Matthew Shepard's story is not unfamiliar on campus: Freshman have been required to attend a screening of The Laramie Project for the past three years. The movie is based on Matthew Shepard's death. Lee also noted that Carroll's gay and lesbian alliance is scheduled to meet with Judy Shepard. (AP)

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