Dennis Shepard's 21-year-old son, Matthew, was brutally beaten and killed in Wyoming 13 years ago because he was gay.
by Aundrea Cline-Thomas
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The father of a college student who was brutally beaten and killed 13 years ago visited the Tennessee State Capitol to talk about the need for hate crimes legislation.
It's been over a decade since 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in Wyoming. Still, his family's crusade to "Erase the Hate" rages on.
"I see the potential that he had to help others," Matthew's father Dennis Shepard explained. "I see what's happening with these kids they're giving up hope early."
In the last two months, Middle Tennessee teens Jacob Rogers and Phillip Parker took their own lives. Each time family and friends say they were bullied for being gay. That's why Dennis Shepard has come to Nashville from Wyoming. He said the laws need to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Some of the proposed laws are going to impact – in a bad way – the kids, their families, their friends," Shepard said.
Shepard cited a bill introduced by Representative Vance Dennis that would protect students from being physically harmed, but would allow them to express themselves based on political or religious views.
"I don't want anyone hurt," Dennis said, "I don't want us as a government to be infringing on an individual's first amendment right to free speech."
Opponents have called the bill a "License to Bully."
"These kids are in fear and they are pushed further into the closet," Shepard added.
Dennis Shepard said he wants put a face on the consequences of hate. It's another way for him to show how much Matthew Shepard's really life mattered
"I didn't look at him as being my gay son. He was my son," said Shepard.
Shepard is a featured speaker at Thursdays Hate Crime Forum at TSU's Avon Campus. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin are also featured speakers.