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Hate violence still prevalent 20 years after Matthew Shepard's murder

Activists in L.A.; one holds a sign that says "Anti-hate laws now"
Two gay activists protesting Matthew Shepard's murder, in Los Angeles 1998. Photo: Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images

Twenty years after his murder, the remains of Matthew Shepard will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral, the New York Times reports.

The big picture: 15 U.S. states don't include gender identity or sexual orientation in hate crime laws, per CNN, and five don't have hate crime laws at all. Those include Indiana, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Wyoming — where Shepard was murdered. But Shepard, who was robbed, beaten, and tied to a fence in freezing temperatures, became "a symbol of deadly violence against gay people," per the Times, and continues to be a symbol today.

The details: The event at the cathedral, taking place October 26, will be overseen by the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, Rev. V. Gene Robinson, along with the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, the Times reports.

  • Wyoming has maintained that Shepard was not killed because he was gay, and, per the Associated Press, this week there was a forum in Laramie, Wyoming, where Shepard was killed, "questioning the prevailing view" that his sexual orientation was the motive for his murder.
  • One of the convicted killers, Russell Henderson, has said he and Aaron McKinney were not motivated by anti-gay hatred. But McKinney "repeatedly used homosexual slurs" in his confession.

Where things stand: Shepard's parents, Judy and Dennis, travel the country advocating for LGBTQ rights, CNN reports. They had a victory in 2009 when President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but advocates argue that state legislatures must take action as well for there to be real protections.

  • In 2017, 52 LGBTQ people were killed in the U.S. because of hate violence, CNN reports — 86% more than the year prior.
  • Bishop Robinson told the NYT that Shepard's death is "a symbol of the kind of mindless, pointless violence against us for no other reason that being who we are. It is important for us to remind ourselves that we are still trying to come out from under that shadow."

Go deeper: Homosexuality still criminalized in much of the world