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Remembering Matthew Shepard: 18 Years Ago, Gay Man’s Horrific Murder Changed America Forever

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1998 Wyoming Attack Remains A Vivid Symbol Of Anti-LGBT Violence

Eighteen years after the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard, we remember a gentle young man who became a vivid symbol of the hatred and violence visited upon LGBT people.

On the night of Oct. 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard was lured from a gay-friendly hangout in Laramie, Wyoming, by two young men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who pretended to be gay.

McKinney and Henderson drove Shepard to a remote area, beat him with the butt of a .357 magnum pistol, stole his wallet (including his credit card, which provided a first clue to the police) and his shoes (so that he could not walk back), and tied him to a fence.

About 18 hours later, a mountain biker found the brutalized young man. At first glance, he thought what he saw was a scarecrow. Shepard was only barely alive in the 30-degree weather. The only visible part of his bloody face were the tracks made by his tears.

He was rushed to a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, and put on full life support, but in the early hours of Oct. 12, without regaining consciousness, he expired, with his parents, who had been summoned from their home in Denver, by his side.

As Nikolai Endres observed: “The scarecrow image, a vivid reminder of homosexuals as outcasts, coupled with the Biblical symbol of a crucifixion, caused an outcry across the world. Shepard made the cover of Time magazine and the front page of the New York Times; thousands of candlelight vigils were held across the nation.”

The LGBT community grieved deeply, and our grief was exacerbated by the gloating of homophobes such as the Phelps clan of the Westboro Baptist Church, who picketed Shepard’s funeral with signs alleging “Got hates fags.”

In due course, Henderson and McKinney were convicted of Shepard’s murder. Henderson struck a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. McKinney was convicted of felony murder after a trial. At the request of Dennis Shepard, he was spared the death penalty and, like Henderson, was sentenced to life in prison.

Matthew Shepard has become a fixture of popular culture, evoked by celebrities and performers in order to signal their position on hate crimes and gay bashings.

Inspired by Shepard’s death, Melissa Etheridge wrote “Scarecrow” on her album Breakdown and dedicated it to Shepard’s memory; Elton John presented a concert in Laramie and played “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” especially for the slain young man; Peter, Paul, and Mary also performed in Wyoming at a concert in Shepard’s memory.

In 2000, Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project performed the play The Laramie Project in Laramie and then across the country; made into an HBO motion picture in 2002, it has since become a staple of university and community theater.

In 2002, NBC broadcast a made-for-television movie, The Matthew Shepard Story, starring Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston.

In 2008, members of the Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to conduct follow-up interviews with residents featured in The Laramie Project. Those interviews were turned into a companion piece, entitled The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, which debuted on Oct. 12, 2009.

Shepard also became a poster boy for hate crimes legislation. As a result, he was defamed by right-wing politicians and conservative religious figures. In the House of Representatives, the execrable North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, in a speech characterized by Keith Olbermann as “the most despicable thing said on the floor of the House in decades,” declared that Shepard was not killed because he was gay and that the story of his death is “really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these [hate crime] bills.”

Despite the efforts to discredit Shepard, hate crimes legislation finally passed Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on Oct. 28, 2009, eight years after first being introduced. The bill is named the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, after Shepard and an African-American man whose racially motivated murder in 1998 also made national headlines. 

The hate crimes bill was the first federal legislation that specifically recognized the civil rights of LGBT people. Fittingly, the parents of Matthew Shepard, Judy and Dennis Shepard, were present at the signing ceremony.

Upon the passage of the bill, Judy Shepard issued the following statement: “When Dennis and I started calling 10 years ago for federal action to prevent and properly prosecute hate crimes against gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans, we never imagined it would take this long. The legislation went through so many versions and so many votes that we had to constantly keep our hopes in check to keep from getting discouraged. … We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly.”

Central to the success of the legislation was indeed the unstinting efforts of Shepard’s parents and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which they established in 1999 “to honor Matthew in a manner that was appropriate to his dreams, beliefs and aspirations.” The Foundation “seeks to ‘Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion & Acceptance’ through its varied educational, outreach and advocacy programs and by continuing to tell Matthew’s story.'”

This video from the Matthew Shepard Foundation tells Matthew’s story: 

In 2012, Lesléa Newman published October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. A slim but powerful volume of poems, “a historical novel in verse,” October Mourning explores with heartbreaking insight the meaning of a gentle young man’s unspeakable death at the hands of gaybashers.

In 2015, Michele Josue’s highly personal documentary, Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, was issued to critical acclaim.

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Democratic Louisiana Governor Wins Re-Election in Massive Defeat for Trump

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Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards won re-election in a highly contested high dollar race against a candidate who spent at least $12 million of his own money and had President Donald Trump at his beck and call. Edwards beat Republican Eddie Rispone, who Trump had personally campaigned for three times in the state in the past five weeks, and had promoted repeatedly on Twitter.

Calling it a “hard loss” and “a stinging rebuke” for Trump, The New York Times notes the president’s multiple visits to campaign for Rispone were “an effort to lift the Republicans and demonstrate his own clout.”

Bel Edwards campaigned on his record, which included expanding badly-needed Medicare, raising taxes to help fix the state’s budget, and giving teachers a pay increase.

Governor Edwards’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, “repeatedly used short-term patches to eliminate financial shortfalls,” The Shreveport Times reported in January. “They raided savings accounts, drained trust funds, sold off state property and delayed bill payments to keep the budget in balance amid tax breaks that siphoned away more and more money from the treasury.”

Earlier this week in Louisiana President Trump campaigned for Rispone, but appeared to be more interested in framing the election as a vote of confidence for himself.

Trump had recently backed Kentucky Republican governor Matt Devin for re-election. He too went down in defeat.

In Virginia Republicans, despite Trump’s support, lost massively. Democrats took control of both the House and Senate, giving them control of the State Legislature and the Governor’s office for the first time since 1973.

Pollster Matt McDermott summed it up Saturday night:

 

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State Dept. Official Testified Sondland Spoke Graphically to Trump Telling Him Zelensky Would Do ‘Anything You Ask’

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Congress will hear first-hand testimony of President Donald Trump’s involvement in the Ukraine scandal.

“David Holmes, the state department aide who overheard President Donald Trump’s conversation with the US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, said that Sondland told Trump that the Ukranian President would do ‘anything you ask him to,’ and that he confirmed the Ukrainians were going to ‘do the investigation,’” CNN reported Friday.

“”Sondland told Trump that (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky ‘loves your ass,’” Holmes testified. “I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to.’”

“While Ambassador Sondland’s phone was not on speakerphone, I could hear the President’s voice through the earpiece of the phone. The President’s voice was very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume,” Holmes testified.

CNN also reported, “Holmes also confirmed Taylor’s testimony about the President’s thoughts on Ukraine, saying he asked Sondland ‘if it was true that the President did not ‘give a sh*t about Ukraine.’”

Holmes opening was also obtained by The New York Times.

“The official, David Holmes, testified privately that he was at a restaurant in Ukraine’s capital when he heard Mr. Trump during a cellphone call loudly asking Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, if Ukraine’s president had agreed to conduct investigations into his political rivals. Mr. Sondland, who was in Kiev for meetings with top Ukrainian officials at the time, replied in the affirmative,” The Times reported.

“Mr. Sondland did not mention the episode to investigators last month when he answered their questions in private. He will almost certainly be asked about it next week when he appears for public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He has already revised his initial testimony once, admitting to the panel last week that he told a top Ukrainian official that the country would probably not receive a package of nearly $400 million in security assistance unless it committed publicly to the investigations Mr. Trump sought,” the newspaper noted.

The details of the exchange are vivid.

“Mr. Holmes described sitting at a table in the restaurant with Mr. Sondland when the president called. The president was speaking so loudly, he said, that Mr. Sondland held the phone away from his ear and Mr. Holmes and others could hear Mr. Trump’s voice,” The Times reported.

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READ: White House Finally Releases Highly-Edited Summary of Trump’s First Call in April With Ukraine President

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The White House, days after President Donald Trump promised, has finally released what appears to be a highly-edited call summary of Trump’s first call with Ukraine President Zelensky. The document clearly states it is “not a verbatim transcript,” and indeed, took the White House three days longer than originally planned to release the document.

The call, according to the document, lasted 16 minutes, yet spans just three short pages.

It appears to have been released in conjunction with the start of the House’s second open impeachment testimony hearing.

Read it below.

WH releases transcript of T… by Fox News on Scribd

 

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